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Power Networking Transportation

The Grid, Our Cars, and the Net 222

Wired is running a piece on the big idea of Robin Chase — the founder of Zipcar — that we need to build our smart power grid on open standards and include cars as nodes in a mesh network. "'Today in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers and tanks and airplanes are running around using mesh networks,' said Chase. 'It works, it's secure, it's robust. If a node or device disappears, the network just reroutes the data.' And, perhaps most important, it's in motion. ... Build a smart electrical grid that uses Internet protocols and puts a mesh network device in every structure that has an electric meter. Sweep out the half dozen networks in our cars and replace them with an open, Internet-based platform. Add a mesh router. A nationwide mesh cloud will form, linking vehicles that can connect with one another and with the rest of the network. It's cooperative gain gone national, gone mobile, gone open."
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The Grid, Our Cars, and the Net

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  • by PrescriptionWarning ( 932687 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:28PM (#27893065)
    Just think though, if you no longer had to pay 2.25 per gallon of gasoline, but instead your electric car just pulled energy from the road it traveled on at a rate that would not only be lower but would then be tacked on to your electric bill. The same is true for the future as it is now, the best we can do to keep our privacy is make sure laws protect them, and more appropriately require a WARRANT. No more of this warrantless bullshit.
  • Re:One thing of note (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:29PM (#27893073) Homepage
    The "Smart Grid" is the concept that you can make electricity use (and distribution) more efficient by building in "smart" power-meters. These "smart" power-meters are networked , which lets them do.... things, some of which may be useful (remote meter-reading? charging you different time-of-day rates? and actually letting you know what those rates are so they can turn them up on a very hot summer day when everyone's AC is on and encourage people thereby to use less power so you don't need as many expensive peaker plants running?) It's not an entirely bad idea, though it is a trifle hyped beyond its usefulness, I think. Which means we'll probably spend too much money on something dubious, just you watch. Really, though, the stuff at the power-substation and major-power-line-level does need somewhat of an overhaul, and that's probably worthwhile.

    I guess the "electric-car" angle comes because if you're charging an electric car overnight, you probably want to charge it when it's cheapest, or something to that effect. And I can see the merit of some sort of open standard here, so you can make a chip which plugs into whatever-and-the-power-line and make that sort of decision. But that's not quite what he's suggesting; he's suggesting turning that device into a wireless mesh node.

    Now, I know a guy who worked at IBM and was really big into this sort of "pervasive computing" stuff. I think some of it sounds neat; I was at a park the other day where one of the water fountains was not working, and I thought, "some day, there will be a little cheap chip in there which will let them know that the fountain isn't working, and they might actually fix it within hours or days instead of months or years. And they will have one in every streetlight, too. Everything. Because it will be so ridiculously cheap. Oh, and they will use IPv6."

    Someday. But today, that sort of equipment will probably cost you a couple hundred dollars per installation. And why you'd mount it on a car, I'm not sure: the car itself doesn't have too much data to transmit, and we have pretty good cellular coverage in most urban areas, and the car density is relatively limited in most other places. Why would anyone with a useful packet to send want to go through this mess of a moving mesh when you can do a quick point-to-point link is beyond me. His "in Iraq, everything is mesh" in fact highlights this - in Iraq, there is not all that much infrastructure, and you probably have a bunch of high-power tanks and jeeps and such with high-power long-range antennas on private frequencies. They can sling data a few dozen miles, and probably have to.

    Oh. His "without spending a dollar more" is total BS, too. Of course it would cost money. A half-decent wireless mesh node these days will run you a couple hundred each. That's coming down all the time, sure, but the alternative is already fairly cheap.

  • by citizenr ( 871508 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:31PM (#27893079) Homepage
    It is true. Phones are NEVER off, they are in sleep mode.
  • by hwyhobo ( 1420503 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:47PM (#27893163)

    Those who actually bothered to read TFA, what exactly is the point of this? I understand Robin Chase loves feel-good social causes, and she is a good organizer, but no one ever accused her of being an engineer. Having read TFA, it sounds to me a bit like confused meandering of someone trying to figure out how to use some of the stimulus billions for yet another social pet cause, but without the clear definition of what that cause is.

  • Re:One thing of note (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 09, 2009 @10:06PM (#27893261)

    And why you'd mount it on a car, I'm not sure: the car itself doesn't have too much data to transmit

    Some ideas:

    • car in front to the car behind: I hit the breaks, and am coming to a sudden halt. Break now, or you'll hit me;
    • car behind to car in front: I'm accelerating and taking you over. Don't change lanes;
    • car to other cars on the road: my tires lost grip at [GPS coordinates]. Forward to other cars that road is slippery there;
    • car to the police: I've been in an accident at [GPS coordinates]. My driver's vital signs are fluctuating.

    And for some privacy nightmare:

    • I think my driver is drunk. I'd better call the cops
  • Re:Sure, but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shentino ( 1139071 ) <> on Saturday May 09, 2009 @10:14PM (#27893295)

    Cars are not inherently inefficient.

    And neither are SUV's.

    The energy expenditure comes from moving mass, be it of cargo, passengers, or vehicle.

    An SUV is a gas-guzzler when used for just a few folks, but it can't be beat if you have heavy and/or bulky cargo to carry. If you have a big family and go on camping trips frequently, an SUV is probably the best way to do transportation. Whether said family should be big enough or go on enough camping trips to make an SUV cost effective to begin with is another matter altogether.

    Public transportation or even bicycles are a good thing. Only economics and personal greed stand in the way.

    It's one kind of efficiency to reduce energy consumption for a given task. It is quite another to decide if that task should be performed in the first place.

    The earth is capable of healing itself if pollution is generated no faster than it can be metabolized away.

    It's every earthling's obligation to not harm the earth. However, it's only due to greedy human nature that "what's in it for me" ruins the economics of it. If everyone cared about the common good (cooperated) instead of themselves (defected), then the Game Theory of Life would benefit all.

    Pollution is nothing more or less than Tragedy of the Commons.

  • Re:Sure, but (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mirshafie ( 1029876 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @10:55PM (#27893503)
    What if a city like mine [] would buy 1000 bicycles and let those circulate among people? You could build a couple of strategically placed bike garages and just let people drop them of themselves.
  • Re:One thing of note (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eriks ( 31863 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:19AM (#27894439) Homepage

    Yes! Exactly. This has the potential to (ultimately) make automobie-related deaths a thing of the past.

    Go one step further:

    • The ability to "Declare an emergency" to acquire traffic priority -- not unlike with air traffic. The emergency would (of course) be reviewed, after the fact, and you're fined if there wasn't one.
    • Lane of road to all traffic traveling in, or entering that lane: The speed of this lane is (currently) 160kph, adjust speed

    Basically have cooperative traffic "networks" where cars can be safely "parted" (for example) on a three lane road for an emergency vehicle, without anyone having to stop. Have a whole lane speed up (to relieve congestion) or slow down (when road conditions deteriorate).

    That'd require that all cars have basically network-controlled cruise-control -- not technically difficult -- but is a "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" kinda thing, though if it could be made 99.99% (or so) reliable, with safe failure modes, the possibility of a fully informed "swarm" of vehicles, automated with regard to speed, especially on crowded highways would be a godsend. Think: no more traffic jams. Ever.

    Think about "speed limits" that are, while automatically enforced, twice the limits (in the fast lane) we have now, since safety can be assured by automatic vehicle spacing and collision avoidance. Drivers pick a lane that has a speed that they (and their car) are comfortable in.

    As for privacy implications, yeah, that'd have to be worked out. How about any sustained erratic driving behavior, like swerving or inability to stay in-lane (without having already declared an emergency) and the network/car gives the driver a warning or two before simply giving you a buffer zone in traffic, and if the erratic driving continues, then call the cops.

    Performance-based warnings in driving systems could make driving safe enough to allow us to have more reasonable legal BAC levels, to where you can have a couple glasses of wine with dinner at a restaurant and not worry about having your life turned upside down by a DUI charge -- and also flag drivers who are unsafe when sober.

    Oh, and I'm off-topic now, but get the frigging truck trailers off the highways and use trains for long-haul freight, and box trucks for short haul/delivery.

  • Re:Sure, but (Score:3, Interesting)

    by john.r.strohm ( 586791 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:23AM (#27894449)

    How many miles are you willing and able to walk to and from work, every day, in all weather conditions, year-round? More to the point: How many HOURS are you willing and able to walk to and from work, every day, in all weather conditions, year-round?

    Figure 80 paces/minute cadence (standard military marching pace), 6 steps to 5 yards (standard military marching pace) and you get 12,000 ft/hour, or about 2.3 mph. If you live 5 miles from work, that's over two hours EACH WAY. On a bicycle, that's less than 30 minutes each way. In a car, you're probably looking at 10-15 minutes each way, with a lot of it being traffic lights and parking time and walking from house to car and parking lot to "workstation" (desk, assembly line, McDonalds drive-thru window, ...).

    Now: How much is your time worth?

  • Re:Sure, but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by driptray ( 187357 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:31AM (#27894937)

    Regarding the US: Mass transit is fine for many but certainly not all people living in urban areas, a lot fewer people who live in the suburbs, and almost nobody who lives in rural areas. The nearest grocery store to my house is 18 miles away. Mass transit would be an extremely inefficient method of transport out here.

    If you build roads and no transit you get the US-style sprawl you describe. If you build transit and only minimal roads you get high-density transit-friendly development.

    The transport infrastructure "drives" the style of city you get. Build it and they come.

  • We had a very heavy 1989 Oldsmobile station wagon. It got 25 City & 28 Highway! It was geared into the dirt. 3rd gear top speed was 45, but at that point it shifted into the 2nd speed of the transaxle. My friend, if SUV'S were geared even lower than that for front wheel drive up to say a 3rd or 4th gear then you could run a direct drive to the rear wheels for highway speeds only at the back tires. All vehicles could be made that way, lower gears and reverse on the front wheels, hi-speed at the rear but it only works if you have a powerful engine (see last paragraph). I imagine SUV'S and pickup trucks would then be getting maybe 45-65 mpg with no changes to the engines... especially with these new diesel engines they're coming out with.

    Toyota came out with a engine for their little pickups that runs diesel but then it has a switch to jump over to METHANE. Damn thing is supposed to get 80 mpg. They could put a bigger one in SUV'S and Hummers. I presently only have a 1978 Ford Maverick and mileage is 14 or so, atrocious, but if I put some smaller diameter tires on next time I need tires I could IN EFFECT give it the extra/excess starting off power the Olds wagon had. That's where you need horses on the hoof, pulling away from a stop getting the car's weight moving with the least outlay of energy. Since I only drive it around town anyway & to work or the store I don't need it to do highway speeds. I can stand a top speed of 42-45 miles per hour. I'll tell ya something else you might not know this but I've read you can take the plugs and compression off a couple cylinders in the 302 and save gas that way! So with smaller tires I could have more torque to the road and make out well with fewer cylinders, probably double the gas mileage, if I chose to do all that.

    IT'S ALL IN THE GEARING, THE GEARBOX AND DIFFERENTIALS IS WHERE YOU LOSE. They could keep every big SUV on the road. They just want people getting crushed into a bloody ball I guess. That's what they think of a man's family and children. Bloodsport without Van Damme. I'm too busy right now making a Gravity "Fuel" Home Engine generates electricity for homes to mess with it => [] but I invented a system for cars in 2003 that is a tornado engine, mixes super cold liquid air injected into a steam-filled hot cylinder (so th minus 320 degree air doesn't flash freeze the piston to the cylinder walls). Last year I designed the engine past theory to run like a mechanical heart. My son is making it up in 3-d Studio Max starting tomorrow. It's a Closed System; once put together no fuel in no pollutants out. I'm not much for making web pages but since I didn't have the bucks to pay anybody in 2003 I made this page telling the processes involved for the air-steam engine => [] . It's like an advanced steam engine in a way except the steam is no longer the "Prime Mover"; cold air takes its place => Steam pressure is replaced with air exploding pressure. It confuses people. Steam Heat becomes the catalyst that makes the liquid air explode rather than just expand. It's a weather cycle in an engine that should develop 600 horsepower. Here's the trick => all the cylinders fire at the same time PLUS another trick => it goes back to being a 2-cycle engine firing twice as fast. It's about 1100% more powerful than any diesel combustion engine.

"In matrimony, to hesitate is sometimes to be saved." -- Butler