WorldWideFuture Weblog

the future of education, politics, science and art

Ultra cool Nissan Land Glider Concept

Must admit, haven’t been blogging for a while as I am getting into the Twitter/Facebook thing. So many things to do, so little time. However, I am still researching into the worldwide future and I came upon this awesome concept vehicle highlighted in Wired’s Autoblog: the Nissan Land Glider at http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/10/nissan-land-glider/. Between this and the Leaf, hmmmm, Nissan might be the company to watch!

Nissan Land Glider Concept

Nissan Land Glider Concept

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October 23, 2009 Posted by | Environment, future, sustainable future, transportation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shai Agassi…meet Zenn

I read with great interest the cover article “Driven” by Daniel Roth in Wired Magazine (16.09 Sept. 08, page 118). The cover says: The Future of the Electric Car” and that seems just about right. In the worldwide future, design is more than just coming up with a product or service. Design must consider the entire scope, enterprise and life cycle of a designed solution. A designer of a product or service must consider the entire enterprise, or how it connects with the entire infrastructure of society. Consider how the world has changed since Edison invented the light bulb: even improving on the original design (for example: compact fluorescents) brings about a whole new set of problems (questions about the actual lifespan, the use of dangerous chemicals, disposal, environmental costs of manufacturing vs. incandescence, the list goes on. (My quote from teaching design: Design is what you do when you don’t know the answer…or the question).

The electric car is a case in point. Zero emissions are a noble goal, but how much will that car cost the consumer, or the environment? What chemicals will have to dealt with in manufacture; or in disposal? What do you do when your battery quits taking a charge? How much will a replacement cost? How much will it cost to build the infrastructure to support electric cars? I really would like to know the answers to these questions, especially from GM, who has been advertising its ephemeral Chevrolet Volt for some time already as if it already exists.

Shai Agassi, a young entrepreneur, has come up with an idea for building a sustainable (key word!) business (Better Place): an electric network that will support a new age of smart electric cars. Agassi’s idea is that you essentially lease the car and battery, and pay for its use through metered electricity. (Like the free cell phone paid for by usage or, going way back to that prime example of Chris Anderson’s Zero Economy, the King Gillette’s disposable shaving blade). The benefits are that you don’t have to buy an expensive car or more importantly, an expensive battery that will need replacing after so many charges. The car is provided to you, you pay for it by paying for the consumable portion: the electricity. The company develops the charging stations and the retailing infrastructure. If you need a fresh battery for a long trip, you just go to the charging station where they swap in a new battery in 10 minutes. You don’t need to worry about the cost of ownership and replacing worn out batteries. You pay for what you use, which is the way everything should be.

The idea is there, and Roth’s story outlines the process Agassi has been going through in finding a place to do trials, and a manufacturer to produce the vehicles and stations. A single car has yet to be produced. Brought to my mind our own (Canada) home grown electric car that is sold through out the world by the Toronto based Zenn Electric Company. Seems to me Agassi, you have a solution…Zenn already has the cars, and better yet the world wide license to develop electric vehicles using EEStor’s innovative high capacity battery system (three times the storage capacity of lithium ion). And, Transport Canada has finally allowed (just barely…they do need a kick in the ass) the use of these cars here in Canada.

Zero Emissions No Noise

The Zenn: Zero Emissions No Noise

Agassi…meet Zenn. Is this the solution we have been waiting for?

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Environment, future, transportation | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Smaller is in!

I have just posted my images of the 2008 MicroCarNorth and Gould’s MicroCar events on my photographic website at photowagon.ca, under Automotive World. Both events are where micro and mini car enthusiasts gather to celebrate their passion for these tiny orphaned cars…MicroCarNorth is held in Coldwater, Ontario, Canada and Gould’s annual event is held in Newton, Massachusetts (outside of Boston).

The Nash Metropolitan...what is not to like?

The Nash Metropolitan...what is not to like?

I am quite enamored now by the engineering aspects of micro and mini cars, and of the people who lovingly restore and maintain these orphans of the automotive world. There is a lot to be said of the future of transportation demonstrated by these cars in the past.

Jeff Upton's Messerschmitt...a post war beauty

Jeff Upton's Messerschmitt...a post war beauty

The media is filled with stories now about the rapidly diminishing business for the auto giants such as GM, Ford, Chrysler, etc. as consumers realize that oil is becoming a precious commodity in a rapidly expanding global marketplace. It is not a new story of course; witness the 1930s depression, the early postwar years in Europe and even the 1970s oil crises. What does the worldwide future hold? More people, rising global middle class, growing need for more oil can spell only one thing: the future is smaller.


The 1958 Heinkel...beautiful example of the "bubble car"

The 1958 Heinkel...beautiful example of the "bubble car"

We here in North America of course have been pretty pampered by cheap gas. Most of us here can’t imagine what it has been like to live in Europe where gas has been much more expensive than we have been griping about. Many are oblivious to the changes in lifestyle that are about to slam us here. Already we have been experiencing the closing of plants and laying off of workers in the auto industry, as consumers begin to realize they need to abandon the 2-3 ton vehicles they are using to go to the convenience store. Of course, the auto industry has always experienced boom and bust cycling. I can attest to the cyclic nature of the auto industry as a previous autoworker myself (Chrysler Engine plant in Windsor Ontario, Canada’s Motor City across from Detroit). Back in the early 1970s I remember the farmers fields around the city filling with unsold cars. I never knew what became of those cars, (I heard they were shipped offshore) but what a symbol of excess and consumerism. The changing business model is as interesting…can’t sell big cars or trucks anymore, used prices dropping, profit margins skydiving. There must be a limit to growth, and eventually western consumers will be pitted against the growing middle class in Asia for limited resources. Perhaps this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. With the successful introduction of the Smart Car in the US, the impending flood of Nanos in India, and finally an announcement that low speed electric vehicles will be allowed in Canada (albeit with too many restrictions), we may be seeing a resurgence of the small car. Perhaps we will also see a resurgence of interesting engineering demonstrated by yesteryear’s microcar.


The Vespa 400, an image of the future?

The Vespa 400, an image of the future?

The microcar is generally a vehicle built in the years from the 1930s to 1960s with three or four wheels, with small single to four cylinder engines (some from motorcycles), with the overriding effort being to make cheaply to allow more consumers with limited budgets to obtain basic transportation. They were made in response to the Depression or in post war Europe where resources were difficult to obtain and fuel and taxes were excessively expensive to most. Nowadays, these cars are popular with car fanatics who like the contrarian, or quirky nature of these machines. Perhaps cars like the BMW Isetta or the Messerschmitt KR200 or the Fiat 500 or Bond Bug will give us a view into the future.


My own 1991 Nissan Figaro...back to the future from Japan!

My own 1991 Nissan Figaro...back to the future from Japan!

The Bruce Weiner Museum has a great web presence listing many of these totally unique cars (the Peterson Museum in LA has a good description too). They are quite the sight on roads these days, especially now amongst the bland rolling boxes of today. It must have been quite a sight to see the streets filled with these things, as some folks have described to me. While they might not have the safety crash protection or the emissions standards we have legislated today, the lesson is that you don’t need much to get form A to B, really. Ralph Ranalli from the Boston Globe got it; he explains in his report of the Gould’s MicroCar Event in Newton Massachusetts that “mini and microcars might actually be relevant again in the once-SUV-crazed US”. He describes the Gould’s meet as “rare chance to glimpse both the past and the future in one place”.


A Fiat 500 taxi anyone?

A Fiat 500 taxi anyone?

The ingenuity shown by these vintage cars is outstanding. What do we see today but each car virtually indistinguishable from each other. We see bloated sheet metal and plastic overpowered engines. Imagine, someone thought a BMW or a Mercedes SUV was a good idea! Nothing uglier. You ride in today’s cars, not drive. I am not saying that the vintage microcars are better than today’s, but when you drive something different, everyone else is just a citizen.

An Isetta, Bantam and Figaro at Gould's MicroCar in Netwon Mass.

An Isetta, Bantam and Figaro at Gould's MicroCar in Newton Mass.

What are the lessons we need to teach our youth? We need to teach them about ingenuity and engineering design focused on practical application of ideas to solve problems, not cosmetic design. We need to teach them that their world will require innovative thinking and unique solutions. We need to teach them enjoyable ways to solve engineering challenges. The world wide future is smaller, in more ways than one. And that will be a good thing.

(For more info on microcars, check out the Vintage MicroCar Club, Gould’s Bubbledrome, and Ralph Hough’s MicroCarNorth.)

August 8, 2008 Posted by | education, Environment, future, transportation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments