Posts with «commercial vehicles» label

Uber will soon offer taxi rides in San Francisco

Uber customers in San Francisco might soon find a traditional taxi waiting for them when they use the app to summon a ride. According to San Francisco Chronicle, the ride-hailing giant has inked a deal with Yellow Cab SF and Flywheel, the company that operates an Uber-like app used by taxi drivers across companies in the city. The agreement will give 1,075 taxi drivers in the area access to Uber customers in the coming months. Uber recently struck a similar deal in NYC, allowing people in the city to hail any of its 14,000 taxi drivers through the app. 

The companies were able to finalize the deal, because the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board has just voted in favor of allowing taxis to accept flat upfront rates for rides hailed through a third-party app. Customers can expect to pay UberX rates, which are calculated based on trip time and distance on top of a base fare, for taxi rides. The year-long pilot for the deal will begin on August 5th.

Uber's rates are typically lower than metered fares, though they could be higher during surge times. Kate Toran, SFMTA's director of taxis, said during the board meeting that Uber and Lyft fares are about 80 to 85 percent of metered rates. While drivers could earn less than usual for Uber rides, their participation is completely optional. They can accept Uber rides whenever they want, and there are no consequences for rejecting them. 

Flywheel and Yellow believe the deal would benefit drivers, who could accept Uber rides to fill in gaps for dead hours. "[H]aving some revenue come in versus no revenue is a much better situation in the end, even if it is lower than the taxi rate," Yellow Cab CEO Chris Sweis said. Still, not all SF cab drivers are thrilled about the development. Mark Gruberg, a board member of the San Francisco Taxi Alliance, expressed concerns about regular taxi customers being ignored during Uber surge times. Another driver told ABC7News that earning less money from Uber rides would mean he'll have a harder time paying off the debts he took to pay for his medallion, which cost $250,000.

If Uber gets its way, though, there'll be no taxi left that isn't part of its network. Uber exec Andrew Macdonald recently said during an investor presentation (PDF) that that the company aims to put every taxi on Uber by 2025. Doing so wouldn't only increase its driver supply, it could also unlock new markets where people don't have their own cars to use for the service. 

The USPS is doubling its order of next-gen electric mail trucks

Despite previously saying that it would only order 5,000 all-electric models of its next-gen postal truck, today the USPS announced that it's doubling that figure to just over 10,000. 

Produced by Oshkosh Defense, the NGDV (Next Generation Delivery Vehicle) is slated to become the new workhorse of the USPS, with the first batch of trucks scheduled to hit the road sometime in 2023. And as part of the USPS' efforts to upgrade its aging fleet, the service placed an initial order of 50,000 vehicles featuring a mix of gas and electric-powered trucks.

However, after learning that only 10 percent of those trucks would be EVs, the EPA and the Biden Administration requested the USPS to reconsider the distribution of its order. So now the USPS has increased the number of new electric postal trucks on order to 10,019 BEVs, which is a significant improvement, but still in the minority compared to gas-powered models. 

Postmaster Lous Dejoy says "Today’s order demonstrates, as we have said all along, that the Postal Service is fully committed to the inclusion of electric vehicles as a significant part of our delivery fleet even though the investment will cost more than an internal combustion engine vehicle. That said, as we have also stated repeatedly, we must make fiscally prudent decisions in the needed introduction of a new vehicle fleet. We will continue to look for opportunities to increase the electrification of our delivery fleet in a responsible manner, consistent with our operating strategy, the deployment of appropriate infrastructure, and our financial condition, which we expect to continue to improve as we pursue our plan.”

Upgrades on the NGDV include air conditioning, built-in 360-degree cameras, better braking and traction control, and much improved safety thanks to things like air bags and a new collision avoidance system. That said, with the USPS having over 190,000 trucks currently in service, this initial 50,000 order only represents a fraction of what the service will need to fully modernize its fleet. So while the mix of gas and electric NGDVs might not be ideal right now, there should be room to expand electrification in the future. 

Uber will soon offer NYC yellow cabs via the app

Uber has struck a deal that will soon allow folks in New York City to hail yellow cabs through its app. The city's 14,000 taxi drivers will be able to accept fares from Uber users through apps like Curb and Arro.

This is Uber's first citywide partnership of this nature in the US. It expects the integrations to be up and running this spring. Passengers will pay around the same as they would for Uber X rides, the company told The Wall Street Journal, with Uber and its partners taking a cut of the fare. Taxi drivers will be able to see their estimated earnings before deciding whether to accept a trip.

The move could help remedy Uber's shortage of drivers and tackle the surge pricing problem while helping cab drivers find more fares. It could be an uneasy alliance, however, given that the taxi industry has opposed ride-sharing apps in the past. Engadget has contacted the New York Taxi Workers Alliance — which represents 21,000 yellow cab, ride-sharing and other drivers — for comment.

Volvo is testing wireless EV charging tech in Sweden

Volvo will put a wireless EV charging system through its paces as part of a program to test alternative charging options. A small fleet of electric Volvo XC40 Recharge cars will be used as taxis in Gothenburg, Sweden in a three-year pilot.

The cars are equipped with a wireless charging system from Momentum Dynamics. Charging pads will be embedded in the ground at two taxi ranks. Volvo will use 360-degree cameras to help drivers put the cars in the correct position and when they're in the right spot, the taxis' batteries will automatically topped up. An image shared by Momentum Dynamics showed an EV charging at a rate of 41kW. 

The EVs will be on the road for more than 12 hours a day and are expected to be driven for upwards of 100,000 km (62,000 miles) per year. Volvo says this is the first durability test of its electric EVs in a commercial setting. Momentum Dynamics has also teamed up with Jaguar to test wireless charging in electric taxis in Norway.

The concept of building charging tech into roads is hardlynew, but it hasn't exactly taken off yet. Still, researchers and engineers are working on other ways to charge EVs as they drive, so at some point in the future, drivers may never need to visit a typical charging station.

Momentum Dynamics Corporation

Designers hope hydrogen-powered plane will fly halfway around the world without refueling

One of the toughest nuts to crack when it comes to developing carbon-free transportation is flying. Commercial electric planes won't be feasible until batteries become more powerful and lightweight. Hydrogen-powered flight is another possible way forward, and a research group has revealed what such a plane could look like.

The FlyZero project, which is led by the Aerospace Technology Institute and funded by the UK government, came up with a concept for a liquid hydrogen-powered midsize aircraft. It said the plane would be able to fly 279 passengers non-stop from London to San Francisco, or from London to Auckland, New Zealand with one stop for refueling. The aircraft, which has a 54-meter wingspan with two turbofan engines, would offer the "same speed and comfort as today’s aircraft" but with zero carbon emissions. 

The ATI says its concept plane would have cryogenic fuel tanks in the rear fuselage, which would store hydrogen at -250 degrees Celsius (-418 degrees Farenheit). Two smaller "cheek" tanks along the forward fuselage would keep the plane balanced as fuel is used.

We're years away from commercial hydrogen aircraft becoming a reality, though. The refueling infrastructure doesn't exist yet and hydrogen is more expensive and difficult to store onboard than kerosene-based fuel. Those types of planes might not be too much of a pipe dream, however.

The ATI expects that, by the middle of the 2030s, efficient hydrogen planes might be a more economical option than current planes. That's partly because other sectors are shifting toward hydrogen, which is likely to reduce supply costs. 

The FlyZero project plans to publish more detailed findings early next year, including concepts for regional, narrowbody and midsize aircraft, economic and market reports, roadmaps for the required tech and a sustainability assessment.

Uber considers dispatching yellow taxis in New York City

Uber might compensate for driver shortages by reviving an old feature. The New York Postreports Uber has lobbied the chief of New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission on the "potential" of dispatching the area's legendary yellow taxis. The details of the lobbying weren't revealed in the public disclosure, but the description suggested you would hail a taxi from the Uber app like you could in the company's earlier days.

We've asked Uber for comment, although it declined to speak to The Post. A TLC spokesperson shied away from discussing details, saying only that the Commission "meets frequently" with licensees to explore ideas and that it was focused on relief efforts for drivers struggling with taxi medallion debt.

Yellow cab hailing might seem an unusual choice for a company that has routinely clashed with the taxi industry and is frequently blamed for gutting NYC's cab demand. Uber would likely have to rethink its commissions to compensate taxi drivers who pay steep costs to operate in the city, and it could still face political opposition given its history.

Even so, it's easy to see why Uber might consider offering NYC taxis. The revival would increase the chances of passengers scoring some kind of ride through the Uber app, even if there aren't enough ridesharing drivers to go around. That could keep New Yorkers using the Uber app and increase the chances they'll use the company's more familiar options.

We won't have electric airplanes until battery tech improves

Today’s commercial airliners are not exactly fuel efficient. The average 747, for example, burns through a gallon of kerosene-based fuel every second that it flies. And with 8.2 billion people expected to take to the skies annually by 2037, carbon-free alternatives to Jet A-1 will be necessary in order to offset the industry’s impact on global warming. We are nearing the age of electric airplanes.

Pioneering researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs have been working on the dream of electrified flight since the latter part of the 19th century when heavy lead-acid batteries were loaded onto early airships to power their propellers. We’ve also seen a number of, ahem, novel means of powering aircraft while in-flight throughout the years, from conductive tethers stretching back down to the ground to solar panels to microwave energy transmission but it wasn’t until the advent of relatively more power-dense Nickel-cadmium (NiCad) battery technology that human-scale free-flying electric planes became technically feasible.

But even as battery chemistries have evolved and energy densities have risen over the past few decades, today’s state of the art Lithium-ion cells pose the same quandry to the aviation industry as they do to the automotive: how to properly balance the energy-to-weight ratio of their batteries.

“If a jumbo jet were to use today’s batteries, 1.2 million pounds of batteries would be required just to generate the power of the jet engine it would be replacing,” University of Houston Energy Fellow, Emily Pickrell, opined in Forbes earlier this year. “This weight would effectively need an additional eight jet planes just to carry that weight!"

And as Li-ion technology has fully matured, further increases to its energy density have fallen to below five percent with each annual iteration, which is why a number of researchers and battery companies are already looking for the next breakthrough battery chemistry — whether that’s Sodium-ion (Na-ion), Lithium-metal (Li-metal), Lithium-Sulphur (Li-S), or Zinc-air (Zn-air).

Regardless of composition, batteries need to get a whole lot lighter and more energy dense if they’re going to attack and dethrone jet fuel which, with an energy density of 9.6 kWh/L, makes the flammable liquid about 50 times as energy dense as today’s best li-ions. To be fair though, due to inefficiencies inherent to internal combustion engines, that figure drops to around 14 times the energy density of a li-ion battery if you’re comparing equal weights of fuel and batteries.

For example, a Tesla Model 3’s li-ion-based battery boasts an energy density of 260 Wh/kg while CATL announced earlier this year that it had built a sodium-ion battery with 160 Wh/kg density (though it hopes to get that up to 200 Wh/kg by 2023). Lithium-sulfur batteries have shown the capacity to hold up to 600 Wh/kg, though that technology faces significant longevity hurdles (i.e. the chemistry tends to eat through electrodes) before they can be widely used. Currently, 2- and 4-person small aircraft outfitted with electric power systems typically operate at 250-270 Wh/kg of specific energy but industry experts expect energy densities will have to hit 350 - 400 Wh/kg before the electric aviation industry really takes off — something that could happen within the next few years, according to Tesla CEO, Elon Musk.

400 Wh/kg *with* high cycle life, produced in volume (not just a lab) is not far. Probably 3 to 4 years.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 24, 2020

Preventing and mitigating thermal runaway is another critical test for electric aviation. When a battery cell, or even an area within a single cell, malfunctions due to mechanical, thermal, or electrochemical failure, its temperature can rise beyond safe levels causing the cell to first produce lithium off-gasses, causing the cell walls to bulge, then rupture, releasing the entirety of its energy reserve. When a cell bursts it can damage and overheat surrounding cells, setting off a cascading failure that results in explosion and fire. When that happens to a Chevy Volt, the car will likely be a write off (fingers crossed it didn’t also set your house on fire) but if such a failure were to occur in-flight on an electrified 747, the loss of life would be catastrophic.

To minimize the chances of a full-blown runaway from occurring, early detection of cell failures is key. As off-gassing typically occurs minutes before a cell ruptures, the presence of a monitoring system which compares sensors positioned close to a li-ion battery against those collected by a reference sensor further away can alert for the presence of a failing cell. And to negate any gases that have already been released, fire suppression systems armed with inert gas — to prevent the offgasses from reaching combustible levels when mixed with atmospheric oxygen — can be employed as well. Of course regular maintenance and robust inspections also help prevent cell failures before the situation becomes explosive.


Battery electric planes will also provide unique challenges in balancing air speed and range, though for Rolls-Royce, it’s not even a question — speed all the way. Over the past few years, Rolls-Royce has been quietly working on Project ACCEL (accelerating electrification of flight), building a battery-powered racing plane, dubbed Spirit of Innovation, in an effort to set a new world air speed record.

The record was previously set in 2017 when an electric-powered Extra 330LE, using a Siemens eAircraft-built power plant, notched a 209.7 mph (337.5 kph) top speed over a 3-kilometer-long course. The feat was certified by the World Air Sports Federation (FAI) as the fastest electrically powered flight by an aircraft weighing less than 1,000 kg at takeoff, beating the previous record (set in 2013) by just over 8 mph (13 kph).

In addition to the 3-kilometer record, Rolls-Royce has the opportunity to also set FAI records for a 15km distance and “time to altitude,” basically how quickly the plane can take off and reach a specific height. “It needs to be a significant number,” Rolls-Royce Director of Engineering and Technology – Civil Aerospace, Simon Burr, told Aerosociety. “We’re planning to fly over 300mph. We’ll see how high we can get to.”


For its attempt, Rolls-Royce — which is partnering with the UK’s YASA electric motor manufacturer and start-up Electroflight, which makes bespoke battery systems — has acquired a pair of Sharp Nemesis NXT twin-seat air racers. One has been used for ground testing while the second will conduct the actual flights. The Nemesis NXT already holds the 3km FAI record with a recorded top speed of 415mph (667.8km) using a 400hp Lycoming internal combustion engine.

The Rolls-Royce team has swapped that Lycoming engine out for a trio of YASA 750v electric motors producing around 400kW (530hp) while the fuel tank has been replaced with three independent battery packs.


“The main challenge of electrification is weight,” Rolls-Royce Flight Test Engineer Andy Roberts said during a September media briefing. Not only did the 6,000-cell battery system aboard the Nemesis NXT shift the aircraft’s center of balance, the 450kg battery system also doesn't get lighter over time as conventional fuel tanks would, which could impact the plane’s performance during the later stages of the run. The batteries are so substantial that Rolls-Royce Chief Test Pilot Phill O’Dell had to lose 2kg of bodyweight to help keep the overall aircraft weight within operating margins.

Thermal runaway is a very real concern for the Rolls-Royce team, as they’ll be pushing these batteries to their absolute limits during the flight. In order to mitigate this issue cells are separated by liquid-cooling plates and stored in cork-wrapped fireproof cases (the porous cork material helps diffuse heat). Should a cell overheat to the point of venting off-gasses, the plane is equipped with an inert gas suppression and ventilation system as well.

On September 15th, the Spirit of Innovation made its maiden test flight from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Boscombe Down airfield, flying for 15 minutes. The company hopes to have the Nemesis ready for an official run at the record before the end of this year.

“The first flight of the Spirit of Innovation is a great achievement... We are focused on producing the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonize transport across air, land and sea, and capture the economic opportunity of the transition to net zero,” Warren East, Rolls-Royce CEO, said in a statement. “This is not only about breaking a world record; the advanced battery and propulsion technology developed for this programme has exciting applications for the Urban Air Mobility market.”

Rolls-Royce is far from the only company pursuing electric aircraft technology, no matter how much faster it is than the competition. From tiny startups to industry stalwarts — even NASA — companies and governments around the world are racing to develop commercially viable electric aircraft both for passenger flights and cargo hauling. 

Guglielmo Mangiapane / reuters

Bye Aerospace, for example, builds electrified 2-seat trainer planes called the eFlyer, similar in function to Diamond Aircraft’s eAircraft. Slovenian aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel has been selling its $140,000 Alpha Electro, the first electric plane to earn FAA certification, since 2018. On the other end of the spectrum you have aerospace giants like Airbus developing the Air Race E, which the company claims is the world’s first all-electric air race series when it starts up later this year (better get with the times, Red Bull Air Race), and demonstrators like the City Airbus, a 4-seat eVTOL. These electric vertical take off and landing capable vehicles have become a popular option for fossil fuel-free air travel, such as Cadillac’s single-seater concept, the build-it-yourself Jetson Aero, China's EHang AAV, Uber’s since-abandoned air taxi scheme or Volocopter’s ongoing air taxi scheme.

Unfortunately, despite all the research into and hype surrounding electrified air travel, many industry experts remain skeptical that we’ll see its widespread adoption for at least a few more decades — at least for large-scale airframes like the Boeing 787 or Airbus A350. Until battery technologies become sufficiently robust, we’ll most likely see eVTOLS restricted to short-hop intracity duties for the foreseeable future, eventually expanding out to inter-city jaunts and regional commuter jets. Still, it beats sitting in traffic.

London's largest cab company will go fully electric by 2023

London courier and private hire taxi firm Addison Lee has pledged to convert its whole passenger car fleet to electric vehicles by 2023. While the company's website says it has over 4,800 cars operating in the UK capital, its recent acquisition of black taxi service ComCab will make it the largest taxi company in London with over 7,000 vehicles. It already has 650 zero-emission vehicles in its fleet after the acquisition, but to be able to fully switch over to electric, it has teamed up with Volkswagen.

Addison Lee is investing £160 million ($218 million) to replace its existing fleet with slightly larger Volkswagen ID.4 vehicles. The standard ID.4 has a 77 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and has range of 250 miles, making it more suitable for city use than for long-distance driving. Its capable of 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque, with speeds reaching 100MPH. 

The firm will start by rolling out 450 EVs by the end of 2021, presumably in addition to the 650 electric cars it already has. Then, the company plans to add 200 electric cars per month until its whole fleet has been replaced within a couple of years. The firm also plans to set up charging infrastructure for its drivers using the new £3.5 million (US$4 million) Future Mobility Fund it has established.

If the company succeeds in transitioning to electric by 2023, it'll be ahead of its competitors like Uber, which previously pledged to replace its existing fleet with EVs by 2025. It also means up to 20,000 zero-emission trips each day in London, which will help the government achieve its goal of a net zero economy by 2050.

NASA starts flight testing with Joby's electric air taxi

NASA just took an important step toward making flying taxis a practical reality. The agency has started flight testing with Joby Aviation's electric VTOL aircraft to help model and simulate future airspace with these taxis in service. The dry run began quietly, on August 30th, and will last through September 10th. The effort will include noise check using 50 microphones to gauge the "acoustic profile" of the air taxi throughout the course of a given flight.

This is the first eVTOL test as part of an Advanced Air Mobility campaign meant to spot gaps in the Federal Aviation Administration's rules and ensure the agency is ready for commercial use of flying taxis alongside delivery drones and other unconventional aircraft. The data from the flight program will help with a fuller set of campaign tests in 2022 involving both other taxis and more complicated flight situations.

The overall program could better prepare the US for a glut of low-altitude air traffic if and when flying taxis enter widespread use. The early testing is also a minor coup for Joby. It's ushering in crucial testing not long after buying Uber's air taxi business and taking a $394 million investment from Toyota. There's no telling if Joby will continue to play a prominent role, but this is clearly the kind of collaboration it was hoping for.

The first crewless electric cargo ship begins its maiden voyage this year

Autonomous cargo hauling won't be limited to a handful of trucks and aircraft. As CNNreports, Yara International now expects to sail the first autonomous, fully electric cargo ship in Norway by the end of 2021. The Yara Birkeland will travel from Herøya to Brevik with only three remote control centers keeping watch over the journey.

Yara first developed the concept in 2017 and had planned to set sail in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the trip. It's not the first crewless ship of any kind to venture forth (a Finnish ferry launched in 2018), but it is the first all-electric model.

It's a slow vessel with a 13-knot top speed from its two 900kW propulsion systems (container ships typically travel at 16 to 25 knots), and it's safe to say the giant 7MWh battery will take a while to charge. However, Yara believes it will be worthwhile for the environmental gains. The firm estimated the Yara Birkeland would replace about 40,000 truck trips per year, dramatically reducing CO2 and nitrous oxide emissions in a country that already relies heavily on hydroelectric power. The ship could also alleviate traffic congestion on land, not to mention keep humans out of danger (albeit at the possible expense of jobs).

It may still be a long while before you see autonomous cargo haulers making trips elsewhere. Even if range isn't an issue, docks are — it would be harder for a self-sailing ship to navigate a busy port like Durban or Shanghai. There are also legal issues. Different countries have their own rules for the sea. As with self-driving cars, there's also the matter of liability. Who's to blame if an autonomous ship runs aground? While it's easy to see a day when autonomous electric ships are commonplace, that day likely isn't close at hand.