17 minutes reading time (3372 words)

Moving the world with next-gen tech

Fuller's words resound the evolution of technology. A 'futurist inventor' he believed that in finding solutions to the world's problems we need to create technology that does 'more with less'. As the global call for reduction of carbon emissions gets stronger, not only automobiles but airplanes, ships and trains will all go electric. It will bode well for the environment; it will also change the way we travel in ways we can only imagine.
Just when we thought that the present technological marvels were here to stay, an upgrade of an idea changed our assumption. When cordless phones awed us with the freedom to walk around and talk, mobile phones changed the very definition, with a wider range. We can say that of almost all inventions that have elevated our lifestyle and improved the way we think, communicate, and travel. So much so that, over time, we no longer use technology, but have come to live it.
Tesla Model S electric car

E-mobility: the way forward 

Technology has changed the way we work, communicate, create, and more popularly the way we commute. Role of technology in modes of commuting has not only made life easier for millions of travellers, but is also working toward a cleaner and greener environment. Making the transition from fast depleting fossil fuels to renewable power sources, is the mantra of the world today.
Introducing 'electric movement in transportation', or 'E-mobility' as the world today knows it. A movement that is defining how people move, development in infrastructure, and changes in policy. The way technology is modifying movement in roadways, waterways, airways, and even space; and the pace at which it is taking place, is nothing less than electrifying.

Counting the milestones

Electrification has brought about a disruptive change in the global auto industry. Countries around the world are making the move from ICE to electric engine-driven vehicles, in a bid to slow down the damage being caused due to harmful emissions; adopting technology-aided ideas like shared mobility and first/last mile connectivity.
This is not only bringing a change in the vehicle manufacturing sector, but also giving impetus to the e-mobility ecosystem that includes battery technology, diagnostics and analytics, charging infra, and components manufacturing.
The electric car frontrunner Tesla, has undoubtedly led the electrification revolution. Over time the company has worked on its power storage systems to deliver stronger, long-running and cost-effective batteries. Many companies the world over have followed suit, some with better and improved technology.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Buckminster Fuller
Today, a lot of traditional automobile companies are adopting the e-movement with e-versions of their vehicles. Joining the fray are scores of innovative start-ups with the fast-mover advantage. There is little room for differentiation by performance; if there is a competition in the race to acquire market share, it all boils down to technology.
Smart charging, or technology-enabled intelligent charging of electric cars, allows the supplier to curtail charging when energy demand is high; turning the EV into a potential energy storage system. There will be a time, and soon, when 'two-way' EV chargers will enable owners to sell their energy back to the national network. All one will need is to get solar panels attached and vehicle-to-grid technology could turn your home into a private mini-power station!
Technological advances in batteries would mean more compact batteries with longer ranges, extra durability and the capacity to charge at very high speed. Continual development in Li-ion batteries, that most EVs use, is the foremost for all EV manufacturers.
Future e-2Ws are being enabled with ride GPS fleet tracking, remote diagnostics, over-the-air (OTA) or wireless upgrades, regenerative braking, multiple ride modes, ride analytics and bike tracking. IoT-powered EVs come with smartphone app compatibility that enable the user to locate the nearest charging stations and predict maintenance requirements.
What seems inspiring now, is the future. Believe it, for it's almost here. AI-enabled guiding systems, internet connectivity and diagnostics that can convert your humble EV into a super-travel machine.

Sky's the limit

Electrification of the road is driving improvements in battery technology, which is fuelling hopes for a future for e-planes. Battery capacity remains the biggest challenge in the electrification of planes. A battery is not even close to being as dense as jet fuel, which means that a far heavier number of batteries would be required to travel the same distance covered with fuelled aviation.
Battery weightage is probably a hurdle for bigger passenger aircraft, but when applied for smaller electric planes, can open up avenues in air taxiing. It is still an idea that is under trial. Maybe electric flights can best work in the hybrid form till technological advancements can find a way to make e-flying a commercial reality.
Hawaii's Mokulele Airlines has partnered with Ampaire, a California-based electric airplane start-up, to fly their hybrid aircraft on the commuter routes. This would be the world's first operational demonstration of electrified aircraft by a commercial operator, claims Ampaire.
Harbour Air, a Vancouver-based airline that operates seaplanes, recently operated the world's first all-electric flight of a commercial aircraft. The six-passenger DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver seaplane was modified to run on a 750-horsepower electric motor, and undertook a four-minute flight. Their partner in this achievement was magniX, an Australian electric powertrain company. magniX is developing electric motors with a high power-weight ratio, that is ideal for flights with a 100-mile range.
For the electric drivetrain to be more effective, the aircraft itself would require redesigning with a new propulsion system — smaller wings, more motors, different aerodynamics. While innovation in battery tech is still under way, hybrid electric-jet technology seems a better option for existing aircraft, and might even be possible within the next 10 years.
As per reports, Airbus along with Rolls Royce is working on E-Fan X, an engine which is expected to take its first flight in 2021. This electric engine would replace one of the aircraft jets, reducing the amount of jet fuel required for landing. It would also work at the propulsion when at cruising altitude and speed.
Complete electrification of cars is a reality, but for now a 100 percent commercial e-airplane, will remain a distant possibility till batteries can be lighter and more powerful. Hybridization of existing engines along with electrical ones is prospective. At the same time, for small planes or air taxis operating over short distances, electrification might not seem improbable.

Game changing drone tech

Air e-mobility is getting there; we can expect to see e-air taxis within the end of the decade. Smaller aircraft like drones are also being considered for unmanned use in areas like delivery. But the hurdle here is regulating the movement of these drones once they are in air, especially in densely populated areas. Safety is one of the main issues in promoting drone use.
Mail order companies are keen on exploring drones for delivery purposes. US e-retailer Amazon first announced Prime Air delivery drones in 2013. The service under development uses multirotor aircraft to autonomously fly individual packages weighing up to 2.5 kg to customers in a 16km range within 30 minutes of ordering.
Google, DHL, UPS, DPD, Boeing, and JD.com (Chinese) are also working on concepts for e-drones to be used for parcel services. Initial tests have been carried out in Japan, Dubai, Singapore, Switzerland, and other countries. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has permitted the use of delivery drones under strict conditions, that include prohibition of use in densely populated areas. This defeats the purpose of home deliveries. In Germany, no approvals have been given for deliveries by air as yet.
Use of unmanned drones for defense purposes, for aerial photography, and more recently for agricultural spraying is common today. These are already electric and need no transition. Drone technology is being developed as small electrically powered aircraft. What we can also expect in the near future is the use of small VTOL or vertical take-off and landing aircraft and 'multicopters' for transporting goods or even people. These are bigger drones with several rotors that get their drive energy from an on-board battery.
A good example of convergence of IT, drones, and aviation is the Western Australian company ElectroAero, founded by Josh Portlock. Portlock is also founder and CTO of drone company ScientificAerospace that began with military drones and then branched into design and manufacturing of commercial drones. It was one of the first certified drone operators in Australia, with NASA accreditation and ISO 9001 certification for its TopoDrone 4Scight surveying drones.
ElectroAero is in the early stages of developing a personal ducted octocopter aircraft, the FlyKart, as technology demonstrator that will eventually be used for certified aircraft. The company will also represent Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel in Australia, to market the Pipistrel Alpha Electro - an electrically powered high-wing light sport two-seat training aircraft. Its USP will be its fuel-equivalent consumption—about $1 per person per hour in electricity.
Several companies are currently developing concepts for air taxis. Dubai, for example, is planning the use of passenger drones as taxis in the near future. It is working along with German start-up Volocopter that specializes in
electric multirotor helicopters in the form of personal air vehicles. The electric air taxi 'Volocopter 2X' carried out an unmanned test flight in 2017, flying over the emirate at a height of 60 meters.
Other companies planning to introduce air taxis include: the CityAirbus air taxi for four passengers, 'Uber Air' taxi service, 'Jet' German two-passenger carbon capsule by start-up Lilium Aviation, Chinese single passenger 'Ehang 184, and a five-seater hybrid by Rolls-Royce.
Use of drones and other unmanned aerial systems is inevitable in the coming future because of the many advantages they offer: speed, cost-effectiveness, quality, and most importantly zero emissions. Potential changes in regulations can further expedite the introduction and application of UAS for commercial use.
Volocopter against the Dubai skyline
CityAirbus air taxi
Chinese ‘Ehang’ eVOTL air taxi

e-railsChugging on e-rails

Where air and road can advantageously work with electricity, railways can't be far behind. Electric trains have a definite edge over diesel ones in terms of cost, operations and maintenance. They display higher rates of acceleration, which translate into journey time reductions, and time is the most appealing factor for any travel.
The European railways is already making a headway in electric mobility. A report stated that out of EU member states, Luxembourg had the highest share of electrified railway systems, at 95.3 percent. In Switzerland all railway lines in use are electrified, making it the frontrunner for energy efficient and environment-friendly rail services on the continent.
There is plenty scope to electrify rail lines, specifically in Britain (which has announced elimination of diesel traction by 2040), Germany, and Eastern Europe.
What is being said about maximizing the benefits of electrification is that the objective should be to increase the traffic operated by electric traction, and match prevalent train service models. The benefit makes more sense if the electricity used comes from renewable sources. Add to that the feature of regenerative braking and energy can be fed back into the grid, reducing consumption. According to Dutch infrastructure manager ProRail, all the electricity used to power trains in the Netherlands comes from green, renewal energy.
It is also debated that though battery technology is developing rapidly, it is only likely to play a minor role in future railway traction. What seems more promising is perhaps the use of battery power on dual-mode battery-electric trains. Where the battery powers the train for a short distance beyond the wires. A fully battery-run electric train, in a lesser possibility argument, could be made to run for shorter distances with rapid-charging points at frequent intervals, or at the end of a line. Hopeful, but work in progress.
India, with nearly 1,20,000 km of track, could reduce a drastic amount of carbon emission with electrification. The government has announced its plan to move towards achieving 100 percent electrification of railways, as part of efforts to curb carbon footprints, and that in the next 10 years Indian Railways will be running on renewable energy. If this were to be achieved, India will become one of the world's large railways to be 100 percent electrified.

Cleaning the waterways with green energy

Ecocat – Spain’s first solar-electric ferry
The most interesting development taking place in e-mobility is perhaps on the water front. Electric powered vehicles are now becoming a common sight on waterways in cities around the world.
Cities with commercial waterways travel have begun to move toward e-watercraft. According to a published article, the city of Amsterdam, for instance, has implemented a phased schedule to make its canals and waterways totally emission-free over the next few years. Most tourist boats less than ten metres are already required to be all electric, and two-stroke outboard motors older than 2007 are not permitted for use in the city's waters. All skippered, large, canal cruise boats must be emission-free by 2025. Amsterdam is also taking steps to create a public charging infrastructure for electric vessels.
The Paris Agreement, which has set the ball rolling for combating climate change, will also have a major impact in the field of commercial marine movement. So, what drives the electrification of waterways?
According to Dr Christoph Ballin, CEO of Torqeedo – regulations, technology, and market forces will define e-mobility on water. Torqeedo is a leading supplier of electric and hybrid systems for ferries, excursion vessels, water taxis, harbour working craft and other light commercial vessels. The company is leveraging automotive battery advances, tying up with BMW to marinize and integrate i3 and i8 automotive lithium batteries with its Deep Blue systems. Dr Ballin feels that recharging is easier for marine watercraft as most docks and terminals already have shore power hook-ups.
Marine electrification is benefiting from advances in renewable energy, especially solar energy. PV cell improvements have led to increase in solar arrays on boats, and when used with efficient high-capacity battery storage and charging systems, solar-electric propulsion can be an attractive power alternative.
Torqeedo is supplying electric integrated propulsion system for a new aluminum solar-electric passenger ferry, for service on Spain's Mediterranean coast. The 18-metre catamaran, built by the Metaltec Naval shipyard in Cantabria, runs on electricity generated by 120 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of the vessel.
The City of Suzhou in eastern China has also deployed a fleet of electric workboats powered by Torqeedo for use in its canals and waterways. The electric fleet includes catamarans and cruise boats designed and built by China Ship Scientific Research Center. The city of San Antonio in Texas put into service a fleet of 43 electric passenger boats for its iconic Riverwalk downtown canal system.
Though it is clear that large vessels that move at high speeds over long distances cannot take advantage of a fully-electric drive system, range of smaller vessels with shorter run-times can be extended effectively using an electric system.
In India, known as the land of many rivers, e-mobility has a lot of scope on the many inland waterways that include the Ganges-Bhagirathi-Hooghly rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Barak river, the rivers in Goa, the backwaters in Kerala, inland waters in Mumbai and the deltaic regions of the Godavari-Krishna rivers.
India's first, and the only, solar-powered ferry 'Aditya' operates between Vaikkom and Thavanakkadavu in the State of Kerala. It was built by NavAlt Solar and Electric Boats, an Indian-French venture that also makes solar-electric cruise boats. The 20-metre-long solar ferries, ordered by Kerala State Water Transport department, are currently under construction, and will soon set sail in the backwaters of Kerala.
San Antonio Riverwalk passenger boat
Aditya - India's first solar-powered ferry

The final frontier of e-mobility

Another supreme use of solar energy is in the sun's own domain – the space. Spacecraft like satellites that orbit the Earth are close enough to the sun to use solar power. These spacecraft have solar panels that convert the solar energy into electricity that powers the spacecraft. The solar energy generated charges the battery in the spacecraft and can be used to discharge power even when out of direct sunlight.
NASA's Mars exploration rovers - Spirit and Opportunity and Mars's Phoenix lander, all used power from solar panels. Spacecraft traveling far away from the Sun have very large solar panels to get the electricity they need. Like NASA's Juno, that uses solar power even as it orbits Jupiter. Each of Juno's three solar arrays is 30 feet (9 meters) long.
Other ways to get power for spacecraft, when solar power will not work, are battery storage and radioisotope power system that uses atoms. There are times when missions are planned for short durations, like the Huygens Probe that landed on Saturn's large moon Titan and was meant to work only for a few hours. For this the lander was provided with a battery.
One such type is the nickel-hydrogen battery, which can be recharged more than 50,000 times and has a lifespan of more than 15 years. These batteries are sealed systems and can operate in a vacuum.
When spacecraft fly beyond the orbit of Jupiter, scientists look to atomic systems to power spacecraft. The most common type is Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG), that uses the temperature difference between the heat from the unstable atoms and the cold of space to produce electricity. NASA has used this type of system to power many missions, like those to Saturn, Pluto and even interstellar space. This type of power system also provides the energy for the Curiosity rover on Mars.
Radioisotope systems produce power for a very long time, even in harsh environments. In fact, NASA's two Voyager spacecraft use this type of power. They have traveled farther than any other human-made object and are still sending back information after more than 40 years in space!
Traditionally, a third of the weight of a satellite is liquid fuel, which is used to power the spacecraft into its orbital slot once in space. Whereas, electric or ion propulsion uses electricity generated from solar energy and releases positive atoms to create the force required to push the satellite in its slot. It weighs significantly lighter and is 10 times more efficient than liquid fuelled satellites.
India's Chandrayaan 1 mission to the moon, was mainly powered by its solar array, which included one solar panel covering a total area of 2.15 × 1.8 m (7.1 × 5.9 ft) generating 750 W of peak power, which was stored in a 36 Ah Li-ion battery for use during eclipses. For the mission on Mars – Mangalyaan, electric power is generated by three solar array panels of 1.8 m × 1.4 m (5 ft 11 in × 4 ft 7 in) each, for a maximum of 840 W of power generation in the Mars orbit. Electricity is stored in a 36 Ah Li-ion battery.

Reining in to reach out

Technology is one of the greatest gifts that mankind has been endowed with. It has allowed our species to reign supreme over others that inhabit this earth. It has been the reason for exploitation of natural resources, but it has also proven to be its saviour. Either ways it is the product of the choices we make.
A steady pace of technological advancement allows us to contemplate the pros and cons, but a hurtling speed in a bid to stay ahead might just take us a few paces behind. Man holds on his fingertips the access code to future progress; for you know even if things were fully automatic, you still have to push the button.
Author : IESA
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