Category Archives: Toys, Technology. Electronics, Software

Morpheus sings opera to matriculate you into a Kia

No, it’s not Morpheus and Eurydice. But it’s close.

Kia/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

They’ll try anything to get you to pay attention during the Super Bowl.

It’s as if all the lady guests in “The Bachelor” house started screaming at once.

Kia, conscious of the difficulty in twinning the concepts of “Kia” and “luxury,” has reached into the Matrix to find its voice.

And by “voice,” I mean Laurence Fishburne — Morpheus himself — singing opera.

Oddly, the choice of aria is “Nessun Dorma” from “Turandot” rather than something from “Morpheus and Eurydice.”

Still, before he bursts into song, he tries to tempt a gorgeous 1 percent couple into making a difficult choice.

“Who is this strange valet in a long leather coat?” they must be thinking. Morpheus offers them a red key and a blue key, while saying that if they choose red: “You’ll never look at luxury the same way again.”

Some might wonder whether this is a subliminal message in support of certain 1-percenters who want all government regulation to be abolished. But then they’ll remember the choice Morpheus offers in the movie.

In the movie, it’s the red pill that sends Neo into a world of truth. It’s not always a luxurious truth, though. The quote about the red pill is: “You stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

No matter, why would the couple even talk to this weirdo? He looks so menacing that you’d think these people might think less about looking at luxury than wondering whether they’ll look at tomorrow.

But they go along for the ride because, well, this is a Super Bowl ad and that’s what you do.

And the Kia K900 is a fetching machine.

Soon, the couple’s fear takes a back seat. They are enchanted by the sheer unreality of the
car. How could this be a Kia? How indeed?

Then reality departs, to reveal that we are, in fact, in a veritable, rabbit-hole free Wonderland.

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Porsche’s 1898 e-car returns after a century in storage

It looks steampunk, but it’s really an electric vehicle.


On June 26, 1898, Ferdinand Porsche’s “Egger-Lohner C.2 electric vehicle,” better known as the “P-1,” rolled on to the streets of Vienna for the first time. In 1899, the P-1 took the gold medal (by a full 18 minutes!) against a field of other electric vehicles in Berlin. Then in 1902, as Porsche put the first all-wheel drive passenger
car into production, the P-1 was parked in a warehouse…where it sat untouched for the next 111 years.

After missing two world wars, the entire Berlin Wall era, and six “Fast and Furious” flicks during the intervening 11 decades, Porsche says in a release (PDF) the P-1 has now been recovered and is on permanent display, unrestored, at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

It’s not too hard to imagine how this historic relic could have been forgotten so long, given that it resembles a horse-drawn carriage. But a look under its wooden frame reveals a novel octagon-shaped compact electric motor weighing only 286 pounds and capable of 3-horsepower output. However, the P-1 ran off more than 1,100 pounds of lead-acid batteries, giving it an impressive range of 49 miles or 3 to 6 operational hours. I struggle today to get that kind of performance out of my laptop — maybe I’m not carrying around enough lead-acid batteries?

The official unveiling of the P-1 is set for this Friday at the museum. If you can’t make it to Germany, you can also get up close with this godfather of today’s Tesla in the gallery below:

Porsche’s recovered 1898 electric car (pictures)

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Bio-on hopes its bioplastics will replace metal, too (Q&A)

Bio-on CEO and co-founder Marco Astorri

Bio-on CEO and co-founder Marco Astorri


The automotive industry is famously reliant on the oil industry for fuel. But a partnership between Italian startup Bio-on and automotive supply giant Magna could reduce that reliance just a little by introducing plastic components derived from plants, not petrochemicals.

On Thursday, Bio-on announced an exclusive partnership with Magna International, a 125,000-employee automotive supplier to BMW and many other companies. Through the partnership, Magna will investigate “how production of this natural polyester product can be elevated to an industrial, cost-effective scale” and integrated with manufacturing processes, the companies said.

It’s a feather in the cap of Marco Astorri, the company’s chief executive who co-founded the company in 2007. Astorri is pushing for his bioplastic’s use not just where petrochemical-based plastic is used today, but also in different applications such as plastic that’s electrically conductive, which means it could in principle replace metal, too.

Even if it’s not conducting electricity, its characteristics means it could replace metal, according to a study by the research lab Ghepi. Making components from plastic can mean easier manufacturing and lower weight, the company argues. And its process is flexible enough to substitute for a wide variety of plastics — polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, and polystyrene, among others.

Bio-on got its start in Bologna, Italy and has a test plant a few miles north near one of Italy’s biggest sugar refinery. The two founders funded the company themselves, with no bank debt or venture-capital funding, and it’s now got six labs in the US and Italy and 32 employees.

Astorri talked with CNET’s Stephen Shankland about Bio-on. Here’s an edited transcript.

Q: What is the source of your plastic?

Marco Astorri: Our bioplastic is made by processing residues of sugar production from both beet and cane, using a natural process without the use of organic chemical solvents. In brief, plastic powder is produced by patented bacteria nourished by beet juices.

Is the electrical conductivity just a theoretical possibility, or have you demonstrated that?

It has been demonstrated by a team of researchers and internationally patented. The preliminary results of the study were presented in Rome in October at the International Conference on Biodegradable and Biobased Polymers and at Maker Fair Rome on October 3.

Have customers shown interest in the electrically conducting plastics? What customers, and for what purposes?

Yes. We can’t disclose the name of the companies we are discussing it with, but we can say they are in these industries: semiconductors, e-paper, phones, and sensors.

I’ve heard a lot about biodegradable plastics over the years. What’s special about yours?

Our bioplastic is 100 percent naturally biodegradable in water and soil, is made by processing agricultural residues, and has no impact on the food chain. We are able to replace all kind of traditional oil-based plastics in use today. We [haven’t heard] about a material like this in the world.

What are some examples of actual products made with your plastics?

If you talk about commercial products, we have none at the moment. The first semi-commercial product is a Flos Miss Sissi lamp, which has been produced in a limited number. We are now developing another design product that will be delivered in 2014, but this depends on the companies that use our bioplastic.

Bio-on produced bioplastic used in this new version of Flos Miss Sissi lamp, a design originally by Philippe Starck.

Bio-on produced bioplastic used in this new version of Flos’ Miss Sissi lamp, a design originally by Philippe Starck.


We can replace almost every product that is now made by traditional plastic. We have developed and produced 30 different objects in the areas of furniture, lighting, automotive, biomedical devices, and packaging. The idea is to start licensing our material in the industries where margins are high: biomedical, electronic devices, automotive, and packaging.

If the bioplastics are biodegradable, what happens when they get wet? Can you make them waterproof, and if you do that, do they cease being biodegradable?

Our bioplastic biodegrades in a few weeks in bacteriologically impure water — that means almost any river or sea, or in soil. The bacteria in water and soil will “eat” the plastic when the plastic is completely immersed or covered. If you imagine a bottle made by our bioplastic, the water inside is bacteriologically pure and so there’s no problem. Consider also that a normal bottle of water in commerce is not completely immersed in a non pure liquid. Making our bioplastic waterproof is possible, but it makes no sense in our opinion because in every normal condition our plastic reacts like the traditional plastic.

What’s the overall greenhouse gas effect of your technology? You’re taking carbon from plants that take it out of the air, which seems to be a greener process than using oil as a supply, but how much energy does the processing require?

We will deliver this kind of data when the first commercial product becomes available in the market during 2014. We can say that the LCA [life cycle assessment] is positive. Consider, just as an example, that in terms of carbon absorption sugar beet is four times more efficient than forests. That means that 1 hectare of beet is like 4 hectares of forest.

Bio-on raw materials before being processed into useful plastic forms. The plastic is derived from sugar beets.

Bio-on raw materials before being processed into useful plastic forms. The plastic is derived from sugar beets.


Oil is still inexpensive now by some measures today. What’s the price difference to use your bioplastics instead of traditional petrochemical-based plastics? And what’s the price difference when you make it a conducting plastic, too?

Our bioplastic is now more expensive than traditional…but we are at the very beginning and we can’t be competitive with a product that has 50 years of history and million of tons production. How much more expensive it is depends on type and quantity, but if you consider the total environmental impact of Bio-on’s bioplastic, we can say it is already cheaper.

Bio-on logo

What can you do with electrically conducting plastics? Can you shape things that would be harder from metal? Can you make components that weigh less than metal?

In the electronics industry, the first use of bioplastic is as a substrate for electrical circuits. Much of the plastics currently used in electronics can now be replaced by biopolymers such as Bio-on’s. So bioplastic reduces the environmental impact of the device, making recovery easier and cheaper. Our research demonstrates that we can also integrate carbon nanoparticles like nanotubes and graphene into bioplastics but in this case the results are partly not complete.

How high is the electrical resistance compared to common conductors like aluminum and copper, and is heating a problem?

Heating can be a problem at very high temperatures, but this is usually not the case in the consumer electronics industry and or in many biomedical applications. If we use bioplastic as a substrate for electrical circuits, resistance is the same as in other device. It’s too early to make any comparison in all the other applications.

Do the conducting plastics have the same properties as your non-conducting bio-plastics? Can they be made as durable or as flexible, for example?

Yes, but it’s too early to comment on it.

Is it actually any cheaper than using metal conductors?

Yes, if we consider all the positive features of our material and the Bio-on bioplastic overall environmental balance. Consider that in many countries legislation is already requiring or will be asking the industry in the coming years to reduce the environmental impact of any production. And electronics is one of the most polluting industries — 50 million tons of e-waste is produced worldwide every year.

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Pininfarina inkless metal pen will write forever


What if you could have a writing implement that draws a line like a graphite pencil, but in permanent, non-smudging ink like a pen?

Car design company Pininfarina — which has worked with the likes of Ferrari, Maserati, Fiat, Peugeot, and Alfa Romeo — unveiled just such a thing at the global stationery trade fair Paperworld in Frankfurt, Germany.

The 4.EVER Pininfarina Cambiano (PDF) is a luxurious-looking, tapered affair with a machined aluminum barrel inset with wood sporting the company’s logo. But the barrel itself is solid, not hollow: instead of ink, it has a tip made out of a metal alloy called “ethergraph” that writes, the company claims, forever.

We’re not entirely sure what ethergraph is, but it sounds awfully similar to a pen released by Vat19 in 2010. “The Inkless Metal Beta Pen features a special metal alloy tip,” Vat19’s description reads. “As you write, tiny amounts of this metal are deposited onto the page. The silvery markings may resemble pencil, but they are permanent and smudge-proof.”

Each pen will be sold with a notebook made of “stone paper,” an eco-friendly, water resistant, and durable paper made from powdered stone. Pininfarina hasn’t announced the price of its new pen, but given the pricing of its fountain pens, we can’t imagine it will be particularly affordable.

(Source: Crave Australia via Uncrate)

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Kia Soul EV joins electric car ranks

Kia Soul EV

Kia converts its Soul model to an electric.


Kia chose the Chicago Auto Show, beginning this week, as the debut venue for the Soul EV, the electric version of Kia’s boxy little hatchback SUV thing. The standard Soul model received a major update for the 2014 model year. The Soul EV will be Kia’s first electric car.

As one of Kia’s more distinctive models, the Soul seems a good choice on which to base an electric vehicle. It will go up against
cars such as the Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e, and the veteran Nissan Leaf.

In that crucial measure of EV performance, range, the Soul EV offers no surprises. Kia cites figures of 80 to 100 miles on a full battery, fairly standard in the current market.

Kia Soul EV

Two charging ports hide under the front of the Soul EV.


The Soul EV’s charging ports live under a place at the front of the car, similar to the Nissan Leaf. Using its J1772 standard charging port, Kia notes that it will take 5 hours to charge the battery from a 240 volt source. For fast charging, the Soul EV also sports a CHAdeMo standard port, requiring only 33 minutes to bring the battery up to 80 percent charge.

The inclusion of the CHAdeMo port marks another win for this largely Asian-supported fast-charging standard.

Kia packaged the Soul EV’s 27 kilowatt-hour battery pack under the floor, helping maintain proper weight balance between front and rear wheels and lowering the car’s center of gravity versus the gasoline version. The battery pack consists of 96 lithium-ion polymer cells using air cooling and ceramic separators to guard against heat overrun.

The inclusion of the battery pack diminishes rear seat legroom by 3 inches, according to Kia.

The battery pack powers an 81.4 kilowatt electric motor driving the front wheels, which takes about 12 seconds to bring the Soul EV from zero to 60 mph.

Drivers can set the car to standard or Eco modes, the latter enhancing braking regeneration and reducing climate control energy usage. In addition, a motor braking setting on the shifter increases braking regeneration over the standard Drive mode. To maximize climate control energy saving, Kia includes a driver-only setting, which shuts off vent flow to all but the driver seat area.

As with other electric cars on the market, the Soul EV comes connected, and will let owners control charging and other functions from a smartphone app.

Kia will begin sales of the Soul EV later this year in California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. Pricing has not yet been announced.

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Zubie tracks your car, rates your driving

The latest cars often come with telematics services that let you monitor maintenance and location from a smartphone app. The Zubie Connected Car Service lets you retrofit an older car with many of these capabilities.

Zubie consists of a “Key” that plugs into a car’s OBD-II port, something you will find on every car built from 1996 on, and an associated smartphone app. The Key scans the car’s internal data, and includes a GPS chip and mobile data connection.

The Key beams its data up to the Zubie mothership, which in turn makes it accessible to the smartphone app. Zubie’s system works very similarly to other devices I’ve reviewed from Delphi and Audiovox.

After a few setup steps, installing Zubie proved very easy. Upon loading the Zubie app onto my iPhone (there is also a version for Android), I had to sign up for an account. Then I entered the VIN and odometer reading for my car.

To connect the app to the Key, Zubie provides an activation code. But more conveniently, the company also includes a card with a CR code, so I could scan it with my phone’s camera rather than type a string of letters and numbers.

After these steps, I plugged the Zubie Key into my car’s OBD-II port (usually somewhere under the dashboard). For this test, I used a BMW 428i I happened to be reviewing. The Zubie Key is compact, so fit easily up under the BMW’s dashboard, but its white coloring and brightly colored lettering made it anything but a stealthy install.

Zubie Connected Car Service

Zubie showed the details of any trip I took on a map.

Screenshot by Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

I was pleased to find that, after one short trip in the car, Zubie was up and running, making the data for that trip available to the app. This setup procedure was much simpler than that of the Delphi Vehicle Diagnostics device.

The account of my trip not only showed the entire route on a map, but registered data points for my top speed, amount of time spent idling, and any incidents of hard braking or acceleration. The BMW I was driving included an idle-stop feature, meant to save gasoline at stoplights, and the Zubie trip report included an amusing little exclamation point on the route for every time the engine shut down.

The app also posted that hard braking incident as an alert to my phone

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