All posts by Matthew Bravante

A Possible Transition

The next step for automated cars and the internet of things

Everyone in the automotive industry knows we are headed towards an autonomous future; the debate is how the transition will take place. I would argue that the path to fully autonomous transportation future is getting clearer every day.

Current autonomous car: This is a model for an autonomous car that is being tested right now. This would be a four seater without a steering wheel, and would have to be autonomous 100% of the time.

First I would like to consider bike infrastructure in the Netherlands as a case study. The Netherlands is a good example of how to spur a transportation revolution. The country did not decide one day to put in all of its current cycling infrastructure. The country introduced the biking alternative a little at a time over a long period of time. It sat back and waited for the people. This gradual introduction created a positive feedback loop: the more people biked, the more demand was created for bike infrastructure, which in turn encouraged more people to bike.

This same model can be used in the autonomous car industry, and there is evidence that it may already be started. American tech giants like Google, Uber, and Tesla are working on improving the technology that goes along with autonomous driving. However, they are struggling with the first steps of transitioning to mobility as a service.

This concept, mobility as a service, is an idea for the future where no one owns their own car, they just call on a car whenever they need it. This notion is hard for a set of reasons. Most importantly, people of this age love to drive, and they love owning their cars. This presents problems in implementation for these corporations. The major question is: how do you get enough Americans to give up their cars in order to create a positive a feedback loop? The answer: you don’t.

This may upset people who are not used to thinking outside the box, but the solution to this problem has to be creative. Transitions have to be gradual, and consumer choice is the key factor to consider. So, the solution is simple, just give the consumer two choices and make one obviously better. We already have the technology to combine typical cars with autonomous cars. If companies like Tesla and Uber could partner up to combine privately owned cars that could also provide an autonomous service.

Imagine business professionals who loves their car. They do not want to give up this luxury, but are open to new opportunities. They buy a car that has autonomous capabilities installed as well as the software similar to Uber. They drive to work, don’t want to pay for parking, so they turn this service on. It takes their car out all day driving customers around and making them money. When they are ready to go home, they call their car back to their location, and they turn the service off.

A car prototype: This could be a possible design for a car of the future. Single seater car that drives you around wherever you need it to, and it doesn’t ever park unless it needs to charge its batteries.

This process would help the transition in a set of ways. First, it would greatly increase the amount of autonomous service cars on the road. People would love a car that can make them money all day. Secondly, this service would allow both the car owner and the car customer to get used to the idea of autonomous driving. This impression would allow for the positive feedback loop to start, and all we would have to do is sit back and watch the transformation take place.

There are many ways to advance mobility as a service, and there is no way to determine exactly how it will play out. However, the autonomous driving future is coming, and this ownership service combination could be the best way to integrate these technologies.

-Matt Bravante

The Reichstag

The History of Germany within a building.

The Reichstag is a building that has as much history as the country it represents. In the Heart of Berlin, Germany’s Capital, there is a massive stone building that holds Germany’s Federal Government. It was built in the late 19th century, and has laid witness to the incredible history that has taken place in Berlin since then. It was constructed at the beginning of the unification of the German States into one Federation, which would be ruled by Wilhelm of Prussia.

The federation was formed in 1871, but construction of the building didn’t start until 1882. There was an architect picked to design the building in 1872, but Wilhelm I would argue with Otto von Bismarck to the extent that all progress was halted. In 1882, another architect named Paul Wallot was chosen to design the building. His design was the one that would become a reality, and aspects of the buildings are still relevant today.

This is an side view of the building. It was important to note that the German flag flies right next to the European Union Flag on the building. Germany is very influential in the EU, and it is an important symbol for the German people.

The most noticeable part of the building are the four towers. Each tower represents a kingdom of Germany, and the statues on the pillars were intended to be representations of people from each region. Another architectural `feature of the building that was done in the original construction is the carved paneling that boarder the doors. These panels represent the two rivers that border Germany, the Rhine to the west and the Neisse to the east. This was supposed to be a symbolic entrance into Germany.

Wall carvings that represent the Rhine river. It is located just outside the door to represent a border for Germany. The other side of the door has a representation of the Niesse River.

Not everything on the building was originally planned to be there. On the upper façade of the building there is the phrase, “Dem Deutschen Volke”. This translates to, “for the German people”, and was a controversial addition. In the heat of the first world war, there was low moral on the battlefield, and within Germany. The Federal government had the idea to add this phrase to inspire the German people. However, Wilhelm II fought hard to keep it off the building due to its democratic implications. He eventually lost this battle, and the words were added in 1916.

The “Dem Deutchen Volke” means “for the german people.” It was added during WWI as moral booster for the the weary soldiers. King Willhelm was very against this addition.

After the war, Germany had a small revolution and the Weimar republic was created. Phillip Sheidemann, a German politician, actually declared Germany a republic from the balcony of the Reichstag. This building stayed the federal government during the years of the Weimar republic. After the Weimar Republic, the Nazis took control of Germany and thus the Reichstag. At the beginning of Nazi rule, the Reichstag caught fire with unknown causes. This gave the Nazis an excuse to basically decommission the building. This fit in with shutting down the German government I its current form. It was hardly used during the Nazi reign, but it still served as symbol for Germany. The soviets were keen on taking this building over as the final blow to the Nazis. The soviets actually lost rights to the building in the division of Berlin.

The Reichstag was in the West side of Berlin, but it was very close to east Berlin. West Germany had no need for a parliamentary building in West Berlin, so it was used mostly as event space. It was restored during this time to fix damages from the war. The fall of the wall saw a new future for the building.

This is one of the four towers on the building. They each represent a major region of germany that came together in the Unification. The towers have carvings and sculptures that represent things that come from that region.

The ceremony celebrating the reunification was held at the Reichstag, and it became the center of the city again. There was an argument of whether or not to bring the government back to Berlin from Bonn. After much deliberation, they decided to make Berlin the Capital yet again, and The Reichstag could return to its original purpose of holding the federal government. The Reichstag has witnessed an incredible amount of change, and still remains a marquee building for German culture.

-Matthew Bravante

Keeping Energy Production Local

A closer look into how small German towns are leading the way in the Energiewende

Today marks a full week of education in Germany, and the entire group has settled into our daily routine. Our first stop this morning was in a small town called Emmendingen. Emmendingen, with twenty six thousand residents, would be a relatively small town in the United States. Our Guide, Erhard Schulz, used his opening remarks to talk about the cooperative energy projects in which he was a part owner. Shortly after, he gave us a tour of two small hydroelectric power plants. The two different plants appeared similar from the outside. However, the plants had completely different systems for generating electricity, and came into existence in different ways.

The owner of a hydroelectric dam shows us different designs for dams and different ways to create electricity.
Photo by: Emily Bulla
A resident’s car in a town just outside of Freiburg. The car is strictly powered by the solar panel that is positioned on the top of the car. Besides his electric car, the resident also owns and runs six hydroelectric dams that create 1.5 million kW electricity and supply 2,000 people in the town with electricity.
Photo by: Emily Bulla

The first was Mr. Schulz’s cooperative power plant. This power plant had an interesting history. It was built in 1925 in conjunction with a larger power plant for the municipality. However, when the government wanted to shut the hydroplant down, the citizens came together and bought the plant for themselves. It has remained that way since then. The second power plant was privately held by a man in the town. Although it was held by a private entity, he financed his project with local investors. This kept the money in the community.

This is part of the first hydroelectric power plant. It uses a Francis Turbine to create electricity which draws from the vertical pressure of water.
This is the outside of the second hydroelectric plant we saw. It is important to note the fish canal at the bottom of the picture that allows the fish to still use the stream.
This is the inside of one of the hydropower plants that we saw. It uses an archimedes screw in reverse to generate power.

I would argue that this is. an interesting concept that could be studIed more in the United States. These projects had Internal Rates of Return that hovered around 6-8 percent. In the United States, any private equity investment is going to hover in the teens, so it would be unlikely to find money to scale up. By keeping it small and local, these power plants can return a lower amount of money, find enough investors, and keep that return in the community. A lot of people in the business world think that renewable energy doesn’t make sense for investors. Emmendingen is an example of how creative strategies can be used to pay for renewable energy.

Keeping it local had more than just financial benefits. They used completely different methods to create the electricity. The first plant used a Francis Turbine. It is a more common method that uses vertical water pressure to generate the electricity, and generates about 110 kilowatts. The second fan older technology that dates back to ancient times. It uses an archimedes screw in reverse to spin a turbine. This was slightly less efficient, but was better for the ecology of the stream. The fact that two plants that were less than a mile apart would use different methods seemed odd to me at first. As I thought about it more, I realized that this specialization was another major benefit of keeping it local. This small, more personalized management system allowed for these different methods to be utilized. This may not of made a huge difference in the context of the power plants. However, looking at the Energiewende as a whole, this individuality could be crucial. The world needs a strong mix of renewable energy sources to truly see a carbon free future. This small town management could be key to realizing that diversification.

This notion was further backed up by the next town we visited, Wyhl. This was the birthplace of the antinuclear movement, and the renewable energy movement. It all started by protesting a new nuclear power plant. Now, it is the fastest growing movement for energy in the world. Wyhl did not look any different than the other towns we visited mainly because it wasn’t all that different. This proved how powerful small towns can be when it’s people work together. I think it’s safe to say that the development of municipal governments and small town energy production will play a gigantic role in the completion of the Energiewende.

This picture was taken at one of the community meetings during the long fight against the Wyhl Nuclear Plant. It depicts the amount of effort that was put together by the town.
This is a small monument to the anti nuclear movement located in Wyhl. It marked the spot that the plant was supposed to be built on. Instead of the nuclear plant being built there, they now have a nature reserve for the surrounding communities to visit.
This is a poster from the Wyhl Village that represents the fight against nuclear that started in that town.
These flags, outside the anti-nuclear protest archive, are the symbols for the German people’s Energiewende movement away from nuclear and towards renewables. Photo by: Emily Bulla

-Matthew Bravante