Tag Archives: Electronics

Project Zero tiltrotor shows off battery-powered flight

Project Zero, shown here at the Paris Air Show, is big enough for a single passenger.

Project Zero, shown here at the Paris Air Show, is big enough for a single passenger.

Stephen Shankland/CNET)

LE BOURGET, France — Sure, there are electric vehicles on the road now. But aviation company AgustaWestland thinks they may have a place in the air, too.

At the Paris Air Show here, the Finmeccanica subsidiary showed off an exotic tiltrotor aircraft called Project Zero that’s powered by lithium batteries. It flies, but project manager Jianye Zhang wouldn’t say how far or how fast.

Project Zero at the Paris Air Show (pictures)

The single-passenger aircraft looks like a flying wing, but it’s got two propellers built into the surface of the wing. For takeoff, the propellers push air downward to thrust the aircraft up like a helicopter; to fly, the propellers rotate toward a vertical orientation to thrust the aircraft forward.

“For us, this is a demonstration — an incubator,” Zhang said.

There are three technology goals AgustaWestland wanted to accomplish with the design: an all-electric motor, a very precise propeller blade control that adjusts each blade’s pitch 18 times a second, and a complete absence of the hydraulic systems commonly found in helicopters.

Hydraulics are a maintenance hassle and must be checked for leaks before every flight, so the company wanted to see what could be done without them.

Project Zero is very light, Zhang said, through use of a lot of carbon fiber and other weight-saving materials. He wouldn’t say precisely how much the aircraft weighed, but said it was more than 500 kilograms.

The 50th Paris Air Show takes off (pictures)

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Tesla announces partial recall on Model S vehicles

Some Tesla Model S vehicles may contain a defect, the electric car maker announced Wednesday.

According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Model S vehicles produced between May 10 and June 8 of this year could contain an issue with the mounting bracket on the left-hand latch of the second row seat. Musk specifically said that the mounting bracket could be “weaker than intended” in the four-door sports sedans.

“This reduces our confidence that the left hand seat back will be properly retained in the event of a crash,” Musk wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

Musk noted that the issue should not cause “undue alarm,” saying there have been no customer complaints or injuries as of yet. Still, he informed affected owners that they will be contacted within the next few days. Tesla will drive to the place of their choosing, pick up the Model S, and repair it at no charge.

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The RAV4 EV is no Tesla in Toyota clothing

Just about every automaker has an electric vehicle in its lineup now, from the Nissan Leaf to the soon-to-be-released BMW i3, but among this crop of quiet cars there is only one electric SUV. The Toyota RAV4 EV came about as tribute from Tesla Motors, in recompense for Toyota ceding its Fremont, Calif., manufacturing digs. I think Tesla got the best end of that deal.

However, the RAV4 EV, powered by a Tesla Motors driveline, steals a march on Tesla’s own upcoming Model X electric SUV. With the Tesla-derived 41.5-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack, the RAV4 EV boasts a 103-mile EPA estimated range, greater than those of all other recent electric cars except for Tesla’s Model S.

With the RAV4 EV’s SUV-format, Toyota can also point to the vehicle’s 108.2 cubic feet of passenger space, and 37.2 cubic feet for cargo, making for a roomier ride than other electric vehicles.

Toyota taps Tesla for its electric RAV4 EV (pictures)

In stance, the RAV4 EV reads small, its body needing merely to encompass its five-passenger cabin. Although the gas-engined RAV4 received major restyling for the 2013 model year, the RAV4 EV for 2012 and 2013 is based on the prior generation, with more masculine wheel arches and a subtler beltline.

The grille, which need only do minimal duty as air intake, is a solid piece of sheet metal emblazoned with the Toyota EV logo. It sits above one narrow slit, making the car instantly distinguishable from its fossil-fueled brethren. As an odd quirk, the rear hatch hinges to the side rather than lifting up.

Despite the driveline, it was obvious I wasn’t sitting in a Tesla Model S cabin. Hard plastics swept across dashboard and door surfaces, while cloth, probably recycled or otherwise ecologically manufactured to fit the theme of the car, covered the manually adjustable seats.

Is that an iPad in your dash?
However, Toyota seems to emulate Tesla somewhat by putting a big, 8-inch touch-screen LCD in the center of the dashboard. Below it sits one big menu button, making the thing look like an iPad. There are no hard buttons to immediately call up navigation or the stereo. More useful would have been some kind of back button, as it is easy to get lost in the onscreen menus.

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV

Toyota minimizes hard buttons on the dashboard, relegating most control to this touch screen.

James Martin/CNET)

The main menu is new for Toyota vehicles, but much of the underlying software isn’t. I immediately recognized the navigation system’s maps and destination screens. As with other Toyota vehicles, the maps only show in plan, or 2D, view, with no perspective view available. I found that the maps refreshed quickly as the car moved and street labels were easy to read.

Under route guidance, the system showed reasonably detailed graphics for upcoming turns and read out street names. Traffic event and flow data were shown on the maps as well, and the system used that information to dynamically recalculate my route.

Toyota didn’t bother to eliminate gas stations from the points-of-interest database, and you won’t find an electric-car charging station category, either. However, the system has an option to show icons on the maps representing charging stations, something that proved very useful during my time with the car.

To help drivers find places to charge the RAV4 EV, Toyota adds an online list of charging stations to Entune, its telematics system. Entune is an app that runs on iPhones and Android phones, and pairs with the car to provide data for popular apps, such as Bing search, OpenTable, and Pandora, on the car’s touch screen.

Tapping the Charging Station Map icon from the Entune menu on the touch screen didn’t exactly bring up a map. Instead, it showed a list of the 24 closest charging stations. I could also have it show charging stations in a particular city. I would have preferred a map interface, but it was convenient that each listing included detailed information, such as now many chargers were available, and whether charging was free.

Outside of the car, I was able to use the Entune app to check the current battery and charging status and schedule future charging. Those features worked where the RAV4 EV could get a wireless data connection, but when I left it plugged in deep in an underground parking garage the app proved useless.

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV

This map approximates the RAV4 EV’s range, although does not take into account actual road mileage.

James Martin/CNET)

Beyond Entune’s EV monitoring capabilities, Toyota builds a couple more useful features into the RAV4 EV. Under an EV menu item, I found a range map, which gave me an approximation of how far the car could go on its current charge, with a shaded circular area overlaid on a map. But because that range was shown “as the crow flies,” I knew that I would have to moderate my expectations. The RAV4 EV also includes some energy usage screens, which will help drivers who want to blog about their electric vehicle driving accomplishments.

Range anxiety
Armed with the Entune app on my iPhone and the various tools the car RAV4 EV provided for finding charging stations, I set out on a trip from San Francisco to Palo Alto, Calif., a 66-mile round trip that would obliterate the 65 miles of range the car currently showed available. I chose the destination based on the range, and the proliferation of public charging stations in the area.

However, the tools in the car weren’t really geared for scanning a map and finding a concentration of charging stations. I relied on the PlugShare.com Web site and app to help me, which offered a better map view and filters.

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV

The LCD instrument cluster gives the driver a choice of information screens on the right.

James Martin/CNET)

Pushing the RAV4 EV’s start button caused the LCD instrument cluster to light up, showing a digital speed readout in the center, along with range and a power gauge to the left. On the right, Toyota gave me a choice of six tools, from an Eco Coach to an accessory energy usage gauge, the latter showing how much the stereo and climate control were drawing from the battery.

I tapped the shift knob, which comes directly from the Prius parts bin, into Drive, and the RAV4 EV crept out of the parking garage. In this regard, the car did not reflect its Tesla driveline at all. The Model S features a creep mode, but its default drive program is to sit still until you apply throttle. Lift from the accelerator, and the Model S immediately slows from heavy braking regeneration.

Toyota chose more conventional programming for the RAV4 EV. It creeps forward when you take your foot off the brake and coasts when you lift off the accelerator.

It was actually kind of boring to drive. Electric power steering added enough boost to make the wheel easy to turn and the electric drive motor made acceleration very smooth. The accelerator pedal tuning made it easy to take off without lurching. Whether on city streets or on the highway, it felt very much the same. And despite all the range tools, it was a very easy car to jump in and go.

To maximize range while remaining comfortable, Toyota includes two air-conditioning modes, Eco Lo and Eco Hi, the latter using the least amount of electricity. Cruising around on a day of about 80 degrees dry heat, Eco Hi proved more than enough to keep me comfortable, but there are other parts of the country where drivers will need Eco Lo or maximum air conditioning.

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Elon Musk promises Tesla battery swap demo at June 20 event


Tesla CEO Elon Musk has promised a swappable-battery demo at a company event on June 20 event.

In a Tuesday tweet, Musk said the Tesla event, which will take place at 8 p.m. PT Thursday at the company’s design studio in Hawthorne, Calif., will include a “live pack swap demo.”

Rumors have been swirling for months that Musk’s Tesla was working on a technology that would allow drivers with batteries running low to get out of one of its electric
cars and swap the battery for one that’s ostensibly full. That would allow for more driving without needing to stop and recharge.

Last month, Tesla filed a document with the Securities and Exchange Commission outlining its plans to deliver the “capability to rapidly swap out the Model S battery pack and the development of specialized public facilities to perform such swapping, which do not currently exist but which we plan to introduce in the near future.” Musk didn’t say anything about those facilities on his Twitter page.

(Via The Verge)

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Tesla Model S and the Top 5 electric cars: CNET (On Cars, Episode 20)


iTunes (HD)iTunes (SD)iTunes (HQ)


We round up and update a bunch of favorites this episode, including a look at the Tesla Model S that, since we first saw it in fall 2012, has gone on to become about the most celebrated
car in the world.

We have also updated our Top 5 Electric Cars list with two cars getting bumped by new entrants in the market; six months from now we’ll do it again as more solid EVs are in the wings. It’s a busy sector, but largely because California requires carmakers to offer a certain number of zero-emission vehicles. EVs are coming to market there as what are called “compliance cars.” Don’t let the number of models make you think there is similar growth in sales, because there isn’t, and electric cars are still very much out with the jury.

We got a lot of e-mail about self-parking tech from one of our very first episodes you may have missed, so it’s back. Self-parking tech has only become more common and affordable in the interim. In fact, it is showing up a lot these days as part of driver assist packages, which means a lot of people will sample it and tell a friend. It really works and is a Godsend for those millions who can’t park.

No XCAR video this week; they are back with us in Episode 21 with a look at the latest VW Golf and the history of that longtime favorite of car people everywhere.

As always, e-mail me your thoughts, suggestions, and comments.

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Buy a $900 Porsche designed for a 5-year-old

Porsche go-kart

Not quite as well-equipped as a standard Porsche.


The 2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid goes on sale for $99,000 later this year. Or you could save $98,100 and go even greener with a human-powered Porsche Go-Kart. Not satisfied with just tackling the adult sports car market, the automaker is trying to corner the kids’ market too.

The go-kart comes in a spiffy combination of black and orange. It’s missing some of the luxuries normally associated with Porsche vehicles, like a windshield, headlights, and an engine. It can only hold up to 110 pounds, meaning you need to be a very small adult or one of the kids the kart is actually aimed at to take it for a spin.

The company did use some of its big
car technology to craft the small vehicle. The kart weighs just 55 pounds and uses bicycle parts for the drive components. The automaker attributes this light weight to a mysterious thing called “Porsche Intelligence Performance,” a performance philosophy developed for its hybrid vehicles.

The Porsche Go-Kart will be available from some dealerships for $900. Since many of the world’s most famous race car drivers got their starts with go-karts, perhaps the next generation of F1 stars will get jump-started by a cheap, absolutely no-frills Porsche.

(Via Luxury Launches)

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