Transportation… OF THE FUTURE!

If you’ve ever heard me chatting with Elvin of the ArcPad team, you’ll know that I can wax poetic about cars almost more easily than I can about GIS. I think an awful lot about transportation (mostly old cars, but still…) It always fascinates me to think how well all get around in the future. How we move about our urban and suburban spaces has a large impact on our cultural and social development, so keeping tabs on this sort of thing could be important. Luckily people who actually have the power to make things happen share this same fascination.

Two European car companies have recently tossed their hat into the ring for personal transportation of the future. Last week Volkswagen showed their NILS single seat electric car. Obviously it’s just a prototype, but I can get behind any moving vehicle that features gull wing doors. Neither the speed or range is anything to write home about, but it might be attractive to those with relatively short commutes. Volkswagen says it could actually go into production. Renault has launched a slightly sexier (at least to my eye) vehicle that has no doors at all! The Twizy will come in two different models, what I’m going to call the ‘slow’ model and the ‘SUPER slow’ one. Unlike the VW, this isn’t a prototype – it’s going on sale in Europe in the not too distant future. One interesting feature of the Twizy is you won’t own your batteries; you’ll rent them from Renault instead at the price of $68/month. At European gas prices, that’s probably a pretty good deal.

VW and Renault aren’t the only one’s exploring this market, as you’d imagine. Check out a slightly old but still interesting video from the British series Top Gear where they explore Toyota’s concept vehicle iReal. Of course if you really want a historical perspective, check out this other Top Gear video showing the smallest car……… in the world!

Adjusting the Nut Holding the Wheel

I really like that quote. The good folks at the Center for Environmental Research Technology (CERT) at the University of California have been engaged in researching new fuel efficiency technology. Their conclusions – fix the driver, not the car. The way we drive has a huge impact on the efficiency of our vehicles. The researchers at CERT estimate you can realize a much as a 30% increase in fuel efficiency with some changes to your driving habits. Unfortunately, we don’t like to change how we drive. The team is trying to develop ways which give the driver feedback on ‘good’ habits that increase fuel efficiency as well as ‘bad’ habits. The trick is doing so without being obnoxious (a trick I’ve never personally learned, as I’m sure Sue and Jesse will attest). They’ve used a variety of techniques, from visual chances on the dashboard to audio clues to force feedback on your gas pedal. The hard part is walking the line between good information and not distracting information. As the research notes, better use of navigation tied to smart traffic networks will reduce start/stop traffic and needless idling, which helps even more.
As a bit of a ‘hypermiler’ from an early age, I can tell you these tricks can really impact your fuel efficiency in a positive way.

Revival of Airship Travel?

I remember reading a science fiction book in the mid-80’s that featured airship transportation on away planets. I had done a report about the Hindenburg a few years before that and thought the idea was daft. Turns out (perhaps unsurprisingly) apparently I’m the daft one, as NASA has begun constructing transportation airships for use right here on Earth! The ships are very different beasts than the old Hindenburg models. They feature more aerodynamic designs and high tech structures that make them safer to use. They also have better controlled ballast systems so they can land, take off, and maintain altitudes much easier than models from 70 years ago. One of the neater more immediate usages of the airships is use in remote areas like Alaska where airplanes simply can’t reach. NASA estimates moving to air travel for our cargo transportation needs could save a great deal of unnecessary fossil fuel expense currently spent on trucking and the like. Other improvements could be made to the systems, including the addition of solar cells and the ability to lift incredibly heavy loads – up to 1,000 tons of cargo!

Flickr and GeoFences

Flickr has added a pretty cool new feature to their API set – Geofences. The idea is based upon the increasing concern over privacy, particularly spatial privacy. In the past versions of the API, one could only make the spatial location available to all or hide it from all. Geofences adds the ability to specify where ‘public’ photos are taken in your stream and where ‘private’ photos are taken. You can then share your ‘private’ fence with different classes of people of your choosing. For instance, you might make photos taken in and around your home in a ‘Family and Friends’ private Geofence and those taken at a public park as a public Geofence. The neat thing is you set the geofence spatially. You draw an area around a place you want to be private and by default any photos taken within that area are private. It’s a fairly cool implementation of privacy and it allows you to change your feelings about place without having to edit a ton of photos to reflect that change. Plus, to be honest, I love the phrase ‘geofence’ ?

Via ArsTechnica

National Parks From Space

Wired has a beautiful article highlighting the views of US National Parks as seen from space.  The views are simply breathtaking.  I think a lot of people in the US forget our National Park system features some truly majestic and amazing places on the Earth.  Looking at them from space gives a whole new appreciation of their wonder, if you ask me.  Furthermore, it highlights how critical remote sensing is to our modern existence.  Having this type of data available isn’t just beautiful, it’s important for understanding how our land changes over time.

Each entry features a little background on the park and a couple of views from various sources.  The vast majority of the data comes from NASA’s Earth Observatory site.  There are a number of GeoEye images and one from the University of Maryland’s Global Land Cover Facility as well.

Kansas Flatter Than A Pancake

Don’t let anyone tell you that geographers aren’t cool! A group of three geographers from Texas State University and Arizona State University decided to test the old adage, “Kansas is flat as a pancake”. To quote the authors: “To the authors, this adage seems to qualitatively capture some characteristic of a topographic geodetic survey 2. This obvious question “how flat is a pancake” spurned our analytical interest, and we set out to find the ‘flatness’ of both a pancake and one particular state: Kansas.” Their method is reasonably sound and deliciously geographic! The results clearly show that a pancake has a flatness quotient of .957, whereas Kansas has a quotient of .9997 – what the authors call “damn flat”.

Man I love geography!

Storm Tracks Move Toward The Poles

Climate models have predicted this for years, but it’s never been observed… until now. Ars Technica discusses the issue in brief. For the non-physical geographers out there (of which I count myself), storm tracks are the mid-latitude storm patterns that bring most of the precipitation to the heavy population centers in the world. As the climate changes, these storm tracks should gravitate to the poles. Scientists have been using data from The International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project to attempt to track the movement of storm tracks. They note lots of issues with the data, but repeated sampling and analysis methods have shown a clear trend – the tracks are moving as predicted. On top of that, apparently we’ve lost 2-3% of our total cloud cover worldwide!

So what’s the takeaway from all of this? It seems to me that the issues with the data combined with the need to track this stuff in a more comprehensive and accessible way point to one major conclusion – we need more satellites to get more accurate and timelier data. It really doesn’t matter where you fall on the climate change issue. Better information can only lead to a more informed scientific community and public, which is always a good thing.

Happy Anniversary Apollo Program!

Today (July 20th) marks the 42nd anniversary of landing the first man on the moon. I think most people are fairly familiar with the amount of engineering work it took to get three men to the moon (and two landing on it). What many of us might be a little less aware of is exactly how much training all the astronauts did to prepare. You’d expect them to do all sorts of stuff with the equipment and collecting samples, but did you know they got jungle survival training in case the return module landed in the jungle? Or that they had to go to geology field camp to learn about geology? Weird Magazine online has a pretty cool photo collection detailing some of the training exercises they all practiced. I think we have to owe no small amount of the success of each of these missions to the clearly extensive training each of these men received in preparation.

Here’s hoping today’s anniversary will spur further space exploration!