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Charging ahead

A diagram showing infrastructure needed to create the charging lane. (Highways England )

Boston Dynamics

Atlas robot

Technology

Charging ahead

Brits try to reduce ‘range anxiety’ of potential electric vehicle buyers

Electric cars have come a long way in the last decade. They’re more reliable, powerful, and stylish and cost of ownership is coming down. So why aren’t electric vehicles more popular? The reason many people cite for not buying an electric car is limited range. A typical EV might make it 200 miles before needing to completely recharge. And even with a high-voltage charging unit, that might take four to eight hours.

The U.K. government is planning to test a technology that could go a long way to eliminating such “range anxiety.” In August, it announced it will test an under-the-road wireless charging technology that could allow drivers of ultra-low emission vehicles to travel long distances without stopping to recharge.

Highways England, the government agency that oversees motorways and primary roads, is planning an 18-month test designed to simulate motorway conditions. An illustration of the concept on the Highways England press release showed charging coils positioned under the outside-most lane of a section of multilane highway—in other words, a charging lane.

The trials are part of a $780 million, five-year project dedicated to solutions for expanding the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Actual on-road tests of the technology could follow the 18-month trial, depending on the results of the testing.

A study published earlier this year identified range anxiety and resale anxiety as the two psychological barriers preventing people from purchasing electric vehicles. The website Clean Technica reported that the study’s principal author, Michael K. Lim of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, suggested two models for overcoming these anxieties. The first involved expanding and enhancing battery-charging services through additional support infrastructure. The second model involved offering consumers the option of leasing batteries and swapping them out rather than buying the battery with the car.

While expanded battery capacity and leasing options did reduce range anxiety, the study’s authors found that increasing the driving range of electric vehicles through expansion of public charging infrastructure yielded stronger results. In addition to the wireless charging tests, Highways England also plans to install plug-in charging points every 20 miles on the motorway network as part of the government’s “Road Investment Strategy.”

A walk in the woods

Learning to walk comes naturally to humans, but for humanoid robots, bipedal walking is an especially difficult challenge.

Researchers at Boston Dynamics, a Google-owned research company and the developer of Atlas, a 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound humanoid robot, recently showcased their progress in robot bipedal locomotion by showing a video of Atlas stepping tentatively through wooded underbrush. The company had only conducted previous tests in a controlled laboratory environment.

“Out in the world is just a totally different challenge than in the lab,” Marc Raibert, founder of Boston Dynamics, told The New York Times. “You can’t predict what it’s going to be like.”

The Atlas robot received funding from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with a view to developing humanoid robots that could assist humans in search and rescue missions following disasters. But to do that, Raibert and other researchers will have to improve significantly the balance and dynamics of robot walking.

“We’re making pretty good progress on making it so that it has mobility that is sort of within shooting range of yours,” said Raibert at a recent conference. —M.C.

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  •  Xion's picture
    Xion
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 11:40 am

    I have worked in machine automation for several decades and it always fascinates me how difficult it is for the greatest engineering minds to mimic what a mound of dirt millions of years ago supposedly figured out on its own.  Man uses his creative mind most effectively to imagine away the Creator and pretend that a world far more beautiful and complex than he can imagine just happens naturally and for no particular reason.