Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Why I think 2040 is actually a very achievable deadline

The UK Government has announced that it intends to pass a law that will make the sale of petrol and diesel cars illegal from 2040 onward. I've read a lot of comments on social media by people who are either scared of losing the comfort they have with a hydrocarbon based fuelled vehicle or misinformed by the 'negatives' of an alternative fuelled car, namely electric battery powered. I intend to address each of these concerns in turn with links to research and sources that will hopefully dispel a lot of these fears.

As a country we will have blackouts if all cars are plugged into the National Grid

Yes if all 36.7m cars on the road in the UK were electric and all plugged in to charge at the same point, there would likely be far too much demand on the National Grid. But this isn't what will happen, in the same way we all don't try to refuel our cars at petrol stations at 9am on a Monday. Those people with home charging will do as most EV (electric vehicle) owners do now and charge them overnight when demand on the National Grid is at its lowest. 

Electricity generation continues overnight and in fact energy producers would love to make better use of that energy consumption lull. As you can see from the graph below, 4pm consumption is just about double the 4am consumption (see live data). Not everyone will charge every night too, especially as battery range/capacity improves. This is called 'smoothing the demand', something that energy companies are keen on as it helps make meeting the demand more efficient, predictable and cheaper. Some expansion of the grid will be required but as this plan is over the next 23 years, adoption will be gradual and so will the improvements to the electricity network.




Solar panels are becoming an increasingly common sight in the UK, and in the future (and in the present too) these could be used to store energy in your home battery during the day and used to charge your car when you are home. Free fuel motoring. 

But I live in a flat / have no home charging availability

You will charge your car like you refuel now, at a refuelling/recharging station. Shell (yes that Shell who sell us refined oil) are fitting their UK forecourts with super charging points. Many others are planning similar installations, after all they'll have no one to sell petrol to in a couple of decades. Also more and more supermarkets and shopping centres are adding charging points.

Currently a trial is being undertaken in Westminster to convert existing lampposts into charging points.

Speed of charge is an issue, I can't be waiting 3 hours to "fill up"

Currently Nissan superchargers can get you to 80% 'full' in 30 minutes. And this technology is improving all the time. In the next 22 years before 2040 rolls around, we could be seeing things like 2 minute charge times, inductive roads (where you only need to drive over the road to charge up - this already is in testing), or possibly to easily swap an empty battery for a full one (I think this is less likely as improvements in battery technology will negate the need for this).

We are still using coal to generate the energy so how is this going to help the environment?

Yes we still use coal as an energy source for electricity generation, however it is currently on average only making up about 1.5% of the total. Gas is still highly used but is better for the environment than coal, producing nearly half as much CO2 as coal.

And this too is changing. You may have seen articles like this showing that renewables (on some days) are making up to 50% of the source for out energy production. See today's mix here.

Air quality in cities should improve dramatically once more and more vehicles are not powered by an internal combustion engine. "But power stations still pollute" I hear you say... Yes but to produce the energy for an electric car vs a hydrocarbon fuelled car is about 9 times less polluting. You have to consider the entire supply chain to see the true difference. Even without that an internal combustion engine can be as efficient as 20% ("tank to wheel"). Electric motors are typically 90%.

Electric cars are far too expensive

No doubt the initial RRP of a typical electric car is more than the equivalent ICE car. Once you take into account the savings on fuel vs charging it may work out over 3 years of ownership to be cheaper, depending on how many miles you do of course. 

One thing is for certain though, EV costs are dropping and will continue to drop as more people buy them and the return on investment becomes greater. The cost of batteries alone has dropped 80% in 6 years with further drops expected in the coming years. This is meaning the some analysts are predicting that EVs will soon be able to match the sticker prices of ICEs by as soon as 2018.

I need to drive 200 miles a day

Personally I think the 200 mile range figure is the key to unlocking the adoption rate of EVs. This will help with range anxiety for most people and should mean just a weekly charge to ensure the daily commute is covered. Here is a list of cars due out in the next 12 months with their expected range (* = not verified by the manufacturer yet).

Chevy Bolt (aka Opel Ampera-e) - 200 miles
Tesla Model 3 - 215 miles
Nissan Leaf (2018) - 200+ miles*
BMW i3 (2018) - 200+ miles*

Everyone knows batteries lose their ability to hold as much charge over their life and perform poorly in the cold

It is true that batteries start to lose their capacity levels but not quite as bad as some people think. This is another area of technology that is improving too, Toyota are developing a solid state battery that can be supercharged quicker (something that traditionally affects long term battery life), perform better in cold temps and be lighter (helping economy/range) and more dense to allow for more charge per gram. They also reduce the small risk of fire that come with traditional batteries used.

Once an EV battery comes to the end of its useful life, it isn't all over. They still hold more than enough charge to be used as home energy stores, similar to the Tesla Powerwall - something that both Renault and Nissan are actively pursuing. 

All this new technology must make maintenance costs higher

There are fewer components that make up a typical EV than a regular ICE car. And as such less to go wrong. Also an internal combustion engine is still a very complicated piece of machinery. Swap that for an electric motor and the simplicity change is dramatic. The biggest cost would be if you had to replace the battery. Typically at 100,000 miles you may have lost 20% of the capacity, but some studies show that a well maintained battery could last around 20 years with few issues.

What about Hydrogen?

Have a quick watch of this and then tell me if you'd like to be within 100ft of someone refuelling their Hydrogen powered car. Although Toyota claim they've solved the 'explosive' issues with Hydrogen. 



And finally I have a question for these people... If we don't go electric, what do we do about the air pollution in our cities that kill an estimated 40,000 people prematurely each year?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Formula E season two hopes

The dust has truly settled now on an enthralling and very entertaining inaugural season of the all-electric single make Formula E racing series. It has succeeded in places where Formula 1 and other events have failed, being very accessible to fans, great racing and great personalities to boot. But what does season two have in store?

The SPARK FE01 cars will remain mostly the same with the exception of the e-motor, the inverter, the gearbox and the cooling system. Also minor reason suspension changes will be allowed to cope with changes to the mentioned parts. And this is my first area of concern for Formula E. Most of the teams have partnered with either a car manufacturer or similar to work on these developments which should lead to some improvements in performance.

But the beauty of Formula E so far has been the identical machinery racing round these tight, challenging city centre circuits, only separated by the team's understanding of best power management and the driver's skill of both being a quick racer but also to put that power management understanding into use on the track. Champion Nelson Piquet Jr was undoubtedly one of the best on the grid at this, being pretty handy in a single seater, he was also able to eek out that extra lap in the first stint before changing cars to being to push harder in the second half of the race.

It is my fear that some of this will be negated and the balance of power will shift towards whichever team has extracted the most additional performance from their technological advancements. Because of this will season two see 7 different winners from the 11 races as season one did? By comparison there has only been 6 different winners in F1 since the start of the 2013 season until now (that's 47 races!).

While I'm not too bothered by Mercedes current dominance of F1, it is of course no different to Williams in the early 90s or McLaren in parts of the 80s; I am however concerned that the close racing that has established Formula E as a motorsport series that more casual fans have come to enjoy will stop and potentially could turn off existing and potential new fans. If the era of Ferrari / Schumacher dominance turned off hardcore F1 fans then what will the FE crowd think to a car being dominant?

One thing that isn't changing but I wish it would is the Fan Boost system, where fans vote for whoever they want to receive a power boost. Output can be temporarily increased to 180kw / 243bhp (from 150kw / 202.5bhp) for 5 secs per car (so that's twice per race). While it has occasionally been used by drivers to make a pass or defend it has more commonly been executed to try to gain extra points by setting the fastest lap. I like the idea of trying to get the fans more involved with the sport, but popularity performance increases have no place in sport, let alone motorsport.

And lastly I hope the FIA are reading this for my final point because so many driver's races have been ruined by the minimum pit lane time requirement. e-dams got it very wrong in Moscow believing the minimum time to be longer than it was, and many other drivers have been too quick through the whole car change process and been penalised with a drive-thru which destroys their race. I agree with the basis of the rule which is to prevent teams from taking risks with safety in the pursuit of quick car changes but why not adopt the WEC method of this which is a minimum car stationary time? The cars can't go quick in the pit lane due to the speed limit and this way so long as they don't set off too quickly there will be no risk of penalty and everyone gets belted up in a safe manner.

Being frank, for a new series which required very few rule tweaks during its first season (changing the warm up lap to a short crawl up the grid a few places was sensible for better use of the energy available) it has done very well to become a popular, entertaining and often exciting race series. When I visited the Saturday race at Battersea Park in London I remarked to my brother that the majority of the fans present were non-typical motorsport goers which showed its variety of appeal. I hope that season two of Formula E doesn't realise my fears and continues to build on the excellent work by the FIA, the teams, drivers and organisers as a whole.

See you on 17th October 2015 for round 1 in Beijing!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

A motoring revolution is coming and not just the motoring world will change

This week saw the arrival of the Google Car in Austin, Texas. This is the next stage in Google's attempt to evaluate how well the car performs outside of California where it has so far performed very well it seems, covering over 1 million autonomous miles. The odd looking vehicle is still someway off production and retail sales but what does it mean for the world when it does start to hit the public highway for real?

As I pondered that question more and more I realised that the impact will be far greater than I originally imagined. And it created even more questions than I expected too. Firstly I began to think about how it would help inebriated patrons get home without the need for an expensive taxi ride. And the fact that you will probably tell your car when you are ready to be picked up via a smartphone app. Your electric powered car may not necessarily be parked close by, but still happily recharging itself via inductive charging bays (bye bye petrol stations?) which don't need to be in center city locations. It doesn't need to be walking distance to anywhere as your car will drop you off at your destination and go find somewhere to park by itself, awaiting your command to return. End of the taxi driver?

Which could mean that the current situation of large outer-city retail parks starting to become less of a trend, with one of the main reasons for these cropping up everywhere is the large area of cheap land for free car parks previously required. A revival of inner-city shopping?

And what about deliveries? A self driving delivery truck can drive all day and all night to shops and customers alike; no need for a break, no complaining about working early or late or weekends. Imagine being able to specify a delivery time to within 20 minutes or so, on a Sunday evening for any product you like. Amazon have recently launched Prime customers 1 hour delivery for London residents - that is the future for the developed world but with the improvement of being 24/7 thanks to automated vehicles. Late night curry?

Parents may find themselves with more time on their hands, why not let the car do the school run or take the kids to their friend's house? Taking someone to or picking them up at the airport at stupid o'clock? And why not reclaim that commuter time that you spend driving to do something more productive? And the benefits to disabled travellers is obvious to see.

Enough about how things will change for drivers and passengers, what about pedestrians? It seems that the evidence so far shows that being a pedestrian or cyclist will be safer than ever. It is expected that autonomous vehicles will evaluate and react to situations much better than human drivers. And when a significant amount of these vehicles are on the roads the thought is that they will be able to communicate with each other. This means efficiencies in driving closer together in a safe way at potentially higher speeds; fewer traffic jams with more vehicles being able to make more use of the existing amount of road.

So who is at risk during this revolution? Potentially the list may include and not limited to taxi drivers, bus drivers, delivery drivers and driving instructors - would anyone want to bother with lessons and a driving test when you can be chauffeured around? Other factors to consider, who is liable for any possible damage or harm caused by the vehicle? The passenger? The owner? The manufacturer? What kind of insurance would you need?

Another huge aspect to consider is would the ethos of car ownership change? Why bother owning a car when you can have one arrive on your doorstep within minutes which will take you anywhere for the price per mile travelled rather than thousands of pounds of depreciating metal that sits on your driveway for ~90% of the time?

So many questions and it could be many years before any of this is prevalent enough to get some answers but one thing is for sure when it does arrive, it will bring some massive changes to society.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Has the Kickstarter novelty worn off?

After reading this great piece on how a very promising Kickstarter project for a spiritual successor to the 1990's Road Rash series is failing to reach a fairly modest goal of $160,000 (by nearly $40,000 last time I checked), it got me thinking: is Kickstarter starting to lose it's appeal?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

How long is long enough?

A recent complaint filed on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) with the Federal Trade Commission, requested that the agency investigate the US's four major wireless carriers into their practice of providing Android updates to customers. The ACLU are concerned that a large majority of Android handset users are being left behind in the update curve. This means that there are an alarming number of people that are exposed to an ever increasing amount of Android malware due to software left unpatched as a result of the lack of updates.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

My week with Linux... Part 3

A week on from first installing Ubuntu and each day I boot into it with less and less apprehension. I said my next test would be video playing and thanks to VLC (installed from the Ubuntu Software Centre of course) I was playing every video (in various formats) I threw at it. Burning ISOs also is a doddle thanks to the built-in software. The only item left to try is to install the Java SDK and get some code writing done in Eclipse, but as the software is near identical to the Windows version I can't envisage any issues.

I've also spent a small amount of time using the bundled office suite 'LibreOffice' which comprises of Writer, Calc, Impress (presentation tool), Base, Draw and Math (an application designed for creating and editing mathematical formulae). Each application seems feature packed and was quite happy opening my Microsoft Office created documents. But as I tend to rely on Google Docs for most of my day-to-day productivity I don't think I will have much use for an office package on my install. If you want a review of LibreOffice then try here.

Oh one final point, I said when I installed Ubuntu that the speed of install was helped due to the lack of a million Windows updates... Well Linux/Ubuntu isn't excluded from such chores (362 updates! See right). At least it was happy to run in the background and didn't impede my use of my laptop. Also it updated everything that was installed through the Ubuntu Software Centre (or at least seemed to). That is one benefit of the centralised software repository.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

My week with Linux... Part 2

I'm a few days into my "Week with Linux" and so far I have yet to find a reason why I wouldn't want to stick with it. So today I decided to throw it a challenge that even my Windows install has had trouble with in the past... my printer!

It is an HP3900 series which for some reason has trouble installing on about three different Windows 7 based machines. Not to say I didn't get it eventually sorted... But not without a bit of faff.

And so up stepped Ubuntu... Printer detected... Printer Installed... Huh?! Within seconds I was printing a test page. And as you can see other than what seemed to be a huge waste of ink, it printed without fault.

So another challenge met with very little fuss. I really did think this was going to be a real show stopper. Next in my challenge bag will be video playing, an often popular sticking point for some operating systems. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Time to put myself to the test

After my previous post speculating about the possibility that both Apple and Microsoft are lining up a significant change to the open nature of their respective operating systems, I've decided to pose one of the questions to myself... Will I go Linux?

The only way to see if it is a possibility is to test the theory. And by test I mean spend at least a week solely using Linux on my laptop. After a quick poll of my Twitter followers, they pointed me in the direction of Ubuntu and Fedora. I've decided to begin my first week of testing with Ubuntu 11.10. The install went very smoothly, repartitioning my drive and giving me a bootloader menu to select between Windows and Ubuntu. All this within 20 minutes which is much quicker than a Windows 7 install on my laptop, especially when you add in the endless Windows updates.

The first major problem I encountered was that my wireless card was missing the driver. After plugging into my router with an ethernet cable I was soon on the internet and had the driver downloaded thanks to the driver download prompt on the Ubuntu task bar. This seems to be a licensing issue with closed source drivers and including them on the distribution ISO image. At the same time I saw my graphics driver wasn't included either, however the display looked good enough without it and made little difference when installed.

Next I wanted to install a few apps and again thanks to the pretty slick Ubuntu Software Centre I was soon installing a few favourites. Chrom(ium) was a welcome sight along with FileZilla, Eclipse (software development IDE) and a few others. Having Chromium meant I had my bookmarks, extensions, home page set and everything else that comes with the excellent Chrome sync feature. My major gripe with Linux in the past has been installing software. Dependencies which were usually missing and hard to find or the variety of packaging formats that software would be available in was confusing to say the least. Thanks to the Ubuntu Software Centre this seems to be a thing of the past.

So my first few hours of being Linux only has gone quite well. In the coming days I'll be trying to do everyday things like burning a DVD, printing, writing some code, chatting online etc... All of which my Windows 7 install does without even batting an eyelid. And are things Linux too should do without any fuss if it could be seriously considered as the OS of choice of not only geeks but every day consumers. I'll keep you posted!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Chrome for Android the death of ChromeOS?

A few weeks ago Google announced the release of a beta version of Chrome for Android (well Ice Cream Sandwich to be more precise). The initial findings are very positive for what a full release could bring, the obvious being the sync between the desktop version on on your mobile device. But doesn't it kind of limit the advantage a Chromebook running ChromeOS might have had?

For me a tablet like the Asus Transformer Prime is as close to ideal as possible. With its quad core CPU, monster battery life (especially when paired with the keyboard dock) not to mention the flexibility of being either a tablet or laptop with the bundled keyboard dock. Yes it costs more than a Chromebook (Transformer Prime is currently £499 in the UK and the cheapest Chromebook is £299) but the extra value gained with the flexible hardware and software must be close to outweighing the cost.

I guess I'm missing something, but other than the outright price difference, why would you choose a Chromebook with ChromeOS vs an Android device running the Chrome browser?

Friday, 17 February 2012

Will OSX and Windows 8 force geeks to choose Linux?

With details of the next version of OS X (10.8 Mountain Lion) being released through developer previews, one feature has caught the eye of the geek technology press in particular... Gatekeeper. As the OS News article explains "Starting with Mac OS X 10.8, Apple's desktop operating system will be restricted to Mac App Store and Apple-signed applications by default (with an opt-out switch), following in Windows 8's footsteps". To a regular Mac user this kind of change might be at first a tad annoying, but as the Mac App Store has been with Mac users for over a year now I expect they are quite familiar with heading there as the first port of call for any new App search.


As iOS (and Android following on) have shown that their respective software repositories that for the majority of users this is the place you get new software. Games, utilities, themes, stupid sound boards, they are all here. What some people think Apple (and as eluded to in the OS News quote, Microsoft with the upcoming release of Windows 8) are trying to do is to close the box on their respective desktop operating systems. The mobile OS market has demonstrated that if you control the method of new software installation you can generate a huge income stream beyond the initial sale of the OS. This is where Amazon are going with the Kindle Fire, by swapping the Market with their own App Store they can redirect Google's revenue stream from the Market. 

I said earlier that the "regular" Mac user will soon adjust to this. Why? Well they probably also own a smart phone of some variety (I'm willing to make the safe bet that it is an iPhone) so this environment is very natural for them, especially as for the previous few versions OSX has started to look and feel more like iOS (swiping of touch pads, visual tweaks, application porting). The same could probably be said of the typical Windows user. Most of those are locked down in offices anyway with application control managed by the IT support department. The home users too are likely to be smartphone users and/or already own an iPad or similar.

Where does that leave us geeks? In my opinion the first action will be to rebel. The respective desktop OS's will be the subjecting of jail breaking, rooting, hacking* (delete as appropriate for your word of choice for gaining elevated user privileges to the OS). This is already common amongst the geek community for the smartphone world. 

But what will follow? The smartphone world doesn't have the luxury of popping in a DVD with an alternative OS of choice, complete with device drivers tested against your hardware. It is hard enough trying to get an updated version of Android onto your 'already running Android' device!

Thom Helwerda's of OS News made a statement within his article which is what got me thinking "In the end though, it doesn't really matter how geeks like us feel about the war on general purpose computing. We'll always have Linux and the BSDs, and Windows 7 surely isn't going anywhere soon either. We have the options and the knowledge to resist these developments." How many of you 'geeks' would give up on OSX or Windows to keep your freedom of install choice and device functionality?

Pretty much the only thing I don't like about iOS is the lack of configurability. Android by stock has a lot more granularity about it and even the ability to replace the built in apps (messaging for example) which keeps my desire to tinker in tact. Yes I've also rooted as it still doesn't allow me to do a full backup for instance. But there isn't an alternative that offers this without jail breaking, rooting, hacking etc.

So will I (and other geeks) be forced by these likely upcoming changes in Windows and OSX to think twice about my desktop OS? Linux might just offer an alternative in the desktop world where no alternative is available in the smartphone world. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

HTML5 Mobile Application Development

Ooh how exciting! Look what my work has just bought for me! As the world becomes ever more mobile, we are trying to make all our web services mobile friendly. And rather go down the App route with these offerings, we made the decision that fancy mobile websites would be the more inclusive decision. We don't want to be upsetting the three Windows Mobile 7 users now do we?! And it would mean that yours truly would have to start developing for the dark side (iOS to anyone who doesn't realise that I develop Android stuff!).

An overview as I venture through this book (in slightly more than the 24 hour claim I'm sure) will be popping up on my blog.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Patch Question

Security is hugely important and huge business. Recently there have been some high profile security breaches and presumably a lot of instances of unauthorised access that have not been made public. The implications for businesses and their customers can be devastating.


Monday, 16 January 2012

Never too old or conceited to...

... go through some training again. We should all try to keep our skills topped up and thanks to the Codecademy Team it is something all developers (and wannabe developers) can do for free!

http://www.codecademy.com/#!/exercises/0

They are offering a free week by week tutorial for learning Javascript. So far, two weeks in and I have to say I'm very impressed, teaching programming principals in a way that pretty much anyone should be able to get their head round. Now I know my way round Javascript but doing something like this helps polish the skills and should try to keep some of those bad habits at bay!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Lies, Damned Lies and Browser Statistics

I love stats. I spend quite a bit of my job compiling and analysing statistics. As this is the first blog post of the year, I thought it would be fun to look back at the browser/visitor stats for people looking at my blog. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 86% of visitors were new to the blog (not been running that long so to be expected).
  • Over 2,000 unique visitors were recorded in 2011.
  • 50% of visits originated from Europe, 20% from the States and 9% from India.
  • Excluding any browser with less than 5% the three main browers (IE, Firefox and Chrome) all claimed pretty much exactly a third of all visitors. Chrome just edged it to the top spot.
  • 85% of visitors were running Windows (60% running 7, 32% XP). 5% were on the move with Android (not surprising considering the main theme of my blog) the top mobile OS. The Xperia Arc was the most popular device to hit the site.
  • The demise of Flash continues (not) with over 94% of visitors having the 'popular' plugin installed.
  • 1280 x 1024 was the most popular resolution but this report shows the huge diversity in resolution choice.
These stats we derived thanks to Google Analytics. If you run a site and don't have a thorough stat collection and analysis service, then I recommend you take a look at it (and it is of course free).

Of course the best part of the statistics is what you do with them...


Thursday, 8 December 2011

From Source to Release

Just read a fascinating piece by the guys at Sony Ericsson about how they take the latest Android source code release through development and testing to deployment to consumers. Most end users should read this to appreciate the time and effort required to get it working on recently released handsets. Some might start to realise that it isn't a case of "Next, next, next, finish". Lots of time and effort is required for what is quite a complex process... And it's free!

http://developer.sonyericsson.com/wp/2011/12/07/ice-cream-sandwich-from-source-code-release-to-software-upgrade/