All posts by megwynn

Our Autonomous Future

Is the electric and autonomous car feasible in America?

On July 5th we visited the Automotive Campus. After discussing smart and green mobility in the Netherlands, we learned what the Automotive Campus is doing to prepare for the future of transportation.

The Automotive Campus is one of the spearheads to the future of cars throughout the world. While working on making cars electric, they are also thinking ahead to a fully autonomous structure.

The Netherlands has a goal of having one million electric cars by 2025 as well as producing zero emissions from public transport by this same time. These goals and ideals are much more feasible for the Netherlands as compared to the US. In Holland fuel prices are very high and most people only travel a short distance by car (given the size of the country), making it attractive to go electric. Whereas in the US fuel prices are relatively low and people travel by car much farther distances, making electric more of a hassle than a greener convenience for everyday life. Long distance travel isn’t conducive for electric vehicles because they cannot hold enough power to go from say North Carolina to Texas.

Students work toward developing their own sort of electric car. These people are the future of the electric car and possibly the autonomous car in the future!

In terms of zero emissions, the Netherlands hopes that by using electric bus systems and light rail that it can reduce its emissions drastically, making the area a better and cleaner place to live. Something like this could not happen in America today. Our country isn’t even beginning to think in this way. They are making strides towards making public transit more accessible and affordable, but we are miles behind anything Europe is doing. Europe is the leader of our future. Americans are obsessed with their cars. Having a car is such a status symbol that people are not willing to give up quite yet. Because of this, it is hard to imagine the US spearheading this movement. While companies like Tesla are working towards electric cars and the autonomous structure, these items are financially infeasible for the average American. This idea serves to further separate the rich from the poor, a divide that needs to be broken if we are looking towards a future of fully autonomous cars.

Students at TU Delft are working on a prototype for the autonomous shuttle. Could this be the future for transportation around campus?

While the idea in America may seem far-fetched, the Automotive Campus is already looking into technologies and preparing for this inevitable future of autonomous cars. One thing that I found interesting was that they were working towards both the electric car and the autonomous car simultaneously. This was striking to me because once the autonomous car is created and widely used, the electric cars that are produced now will need to be taken out of the system. The technology will still be there, but for people to actually relax in their vehicles there cannot be steering wheels in cars. Has the Automotive Campus thought about what it would do in this scenario? Are they looking to retrofit existing cars or are they expecting both autonomous cars and personal vehicles to be driving simultaneously? The latter could be potentially dangerous given our innate unpredictability and would take away the inherent benefits of going completely autonomous.

The hope with a completely autonomous system is that it allows for more green spaces and services while doing away with large parking lots and stoplights. This is a future that we should be heading towards. My only concern is what will we do with all the extra waste. If we uproot existing parking lots for parks, where does this debris go? Where do all the preexisting cars go? While I think the idea is great and that it will make our world a safer and greener place, there are a lot of questions that need to be raised before this can become a reality.

-Megan Gwynn

CleanTech Innovation Center’s Start-ups and Culture

Three Start-ups in the early stages of development

Today we spent our afternoon at the Clean Tech Innovation Center. Although it may have been hard to find, it was a very interesting space with a lot of early stage startups. While here, we were able to check out three very different startups that all share the same space.

Nuventura:

Nuventura is looking to find a way to make a cleaner grid by producing an IP based technology that converts synthetic CO2 into naturally decomposable substances. The founder took some time to speak with us about his motivations and his struggles being an early stage start up. Formally an electrical engineer, the founder quit his day job to work on a technology he believed would solve the world’s future problem regarding CO2 emissions. He focuses his work on the technology and not on creating a marketable product since his background his not in advertising or manufacturing.

He also shared his thoughts about working in a shared workspace. Something he said that was intriguing was that he liked that he was able to bounce his ideas off of people, but also that they all had a connection because of the fact that they were all trying to become something from nothing. They all face struggles with funding. Yet, he told us that he doesn’t feel competitive against the other workers because they are all working on such different ideas.

A representative of Shoutr Labs explaining the innovative technology to our group

Shoutr Labs:

Shoutr Labs is creating a beacon Wi-Fi network for museums. These beacons offer an interactive audio guide for patrons of the museum, which allows people to use their existing technology without taking up any storage or using any data. This auto-syncing technology even allows people to view 360-degree photos, by simply scanning a QR code upon entering an exhibit. One interesting feature that this technology offers is a type of virtual experience. Shoutr Labs created a system for the natural history museum that makes it seems like there are dinosaurs in the room via your phone screen. With this function, people can take selfies and feel close to live dinosaurs!

A QR code for Shoutr Labs’ beacon network. It allows museum goers to enter a world of virtual reality when walking through exhibits.

Skypoint:

Skypoint is working on producing storm resistant fix drones equipped radar, camera, and surveying systems. These drones are tethered to the ground and produce energy through wind collection using the small turbines on the product’s shell. The product’s founder and CEO has a lot of visions as to where this technology can go. For example, it could be used for property protection, open pit mining, delivering goods after a natural disaster, filed management, control of an unmanned vehicle, herd management, and border control. Border control, specifically for the US-Mexico border, seemed to be the main target for this product as he was marketing to private security companies.

All the functions and uses that Skypoint technology was looking to solve. Although still in the early stages of design, this product seems to be a very versatile option for the future.

-Megan Gwynn

Water, Wind, and Transportation

Storm Surge Barriers and Biking Infrastructure Experienced First-Hand

Today, our teacher and Hague enthusiast, Cor Rademaker, indulged us with over 70 km of biking (yes, we mapped it) between the city and Dutch countryside, exposing Holland’s hidden gems and sustainable qualities. We traveled to Schipluiden and Maasland to experience the expansive biking infrastructure before stopping at the Hoek Van Holland to learn about storm surge protection.

Biking infrastructure extends all along the beach, cutting through the dunes to make bike travel easy and accessible.
Biking infrastructure outside the city is well marked and easily navigable.

Our tour began heading out of town towards the smallest village in The Netherlands, ‘T Woudt. On our way, we paused to discuss the social housing within The Hague and how it is situated near the tramline, making it workable for those without cars. Because public transit is so common here, there seems to be much less of a stigma associated with social housing than in the US. Cor informed us that 70 percent of new housing built in the Hague is dedicated to social housing. Once we got out of the city, we entered cow country. We learned that cows are an important part of the Dutch agricultural economy since most crops struggle to grow in the brackish water that lines the fields. Across the bike path from the cows there were greenhouses that seemed to be go on forever. These greenhouses were used to grow grapes for wine production. After a quick stop at Holland’s smallest village, we stopped at a rural café to regain the feeling in our legs before heading back out to check out Schipluiden and Maasland, two small towns. Our main stop for today was to visit the Maeslant Barrier Rotterdam, a storm surge barrier. After biking six and half kilometers against the wind, we made it to the top of a hill overlooking the barrier. The barrier is a structure so big that it takes four years and over 300,000 liters to paint. Completed in 1997 and costing over 660,000 Euro, the Maeslant Barrier was designed to protect the city of Zuid-Holland by taking the full brunt of flooding from the sea. In order to do this the structure must be able to sense its surroundings and act quickly. Because it takes around 30 minutes for the arms to close, the system relies heavily on sensor technology and is completely computerized (even if we went extinct the gates would still close). Among other things, the sensors detect changes in sea level rise, wind speed, and wind direction. Once the water gets to three meters above sea level, the computer sends out a message to the city alerting the ships that the gate will soon be closing. To make sure that the system is still functioning, the barrier is tested once a year and is expected to be needed once every ten years, although it may be more frequent in the future due to climate change. The structure is completely self-sufficient and self-protecting. The structure is powered by its own power plant. In fact, there is a power plant built for each arm. In the case that one was to fail, there is a wire that runs under the river to provide power to the other. If both were to fail, there is a diesel engine that can be used to power both arms, but this takes more time to close the arms. The structure protects itself from damage by not closing completely. When the gates are fully closed, there is an 80 cm gap between the arms to allow for the inevitable movement during heavy storms. Water moves much more rapidly through the arms once closed because there is a much smaller space for water to move. This could serve as a source of energy in the future, but the tour guide said that they were not there yet with the necessary technology. Although grueling, the day was very informative. Besides learning about storm management in The Netherlands, it was interesting to see just how quick and easy it was to get out of the city via bike. There are so many bike paths, even in places you wouldn’t expect (like the countryside) that truly make not having a car easy. The city is planned around biking infrastructure, making it not only safer for bikers but also more sustainable.

Greenhouses are an important part of the Netherlands crop production. These greenhouses are growing grapes for year-round wine production.
With arms as long as the Eiffel Tower is high, the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier protects the citizens of Holland from experiencing massive flooding during extreme weather. Plus, it is one of the wonders of the modern world!
The building behind this group of students is a 100% sustainable town hall building. The thatch roof serves as an excellent insulator!

-Megan Gwynn