This week in the news at Gas2, we reported on Tesla’s Q4 and 2016 financial numbers and its anticipated production dates for the new Model 3 lower priced EV. Another mega-company is also featured in our Gas2 week in review: Uber, with revelations coming almost daily of gender inequities and sexual harassment. And while many innovations around alternative vehicles make the news, this week in review also points you to the Trump administration’s stomp on the California high speed rail project. Shell and Toyota, which may seem like adversaries, have agreed to partner on a hydrogen fuel project. And two new technology ideas captured our attention for this week in review: first, a combined Hyperloop and space launch patent and, second, a drone that delivers UPS packages. So, sit back and enjoy this edition of the Gas2 Week in Review…
Tesla is expected to begin production of the newest electric vehicle in its catalog, the Model 3, in July. The announcement came as part of the Tesla Q4 and annual 2016 shareholders’ letter on Wednesday of this week. An entry level Model 3 will cost about $35,000, much lower than the Model S sedan and the Model X SUV. About 400,000 people have already signed to purchase one, which will be available initially only in limited quantities. Tesla has committed to building 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of 2017. “The rate of production is as fast as the slowest component in the vehicle,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk commented during a media Q&A call. “And when you have several thousand unique items, it can move as fast as the least likely and worst executing part of Tesla or our suppliers. That’s just the way it goes.”
A former employee and engineer, Susan Fowler, wrote a blog post this week in which she chronicled a year of work at Uber in which she and other females employees were objects of systematic sexual harassment. Fowler’s fact-is-stranger-than-fiction story became a wake-up call for Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, whose own sexual braggadocio has complicated accusations of gender imbalance at best and subjugation at worst at the ride-sharing company. In a subsequent memo, Kalanick revealed that Uber employs just 15 percent women in its technical roles. This story on our week in review will have lots of ramifications, not just for Uber but for the tech industry as a whole.
In a move that surprised few, new Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao has canceled $647 million in federal funds that were designated for the Peninsular electrification initiative and work on the LA to SF high speed rail project. Yes, transforming the Caltrain would have been expensive, but it have had the associated benefits of cleaner, quieter trains, a move away from today’s dirty diesel locomotives, more efficient schedules, and increased passenger capacity. The system’s ridership, which now tallies 62,000 riders a day, has doubled since 2009 and nearly tripled since 2004. The project endorsement was just supposed to be a formality capping a long period of review at the Federal Transit Administration; contractors were ready to start work on electrification on March 1.
Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s largest petroleum companies, has announced it will build seven hydrogen fueling stations in California to help support Toyota and its fuel cell, Mirai. With a goal of 100 fueling stations by 2024, the California Energy Board may add in $16 million to the project; Shell and Toyota have committed to investing $11.4 million of their own money. Toyota is moving forward with a hydrogen fuel cell program as a result of its belief that internal combustion engines are destined to be banned within our lifetimes. It has plans to eliminate them from its product lineup by 2050. Hydrogen fuel cells will serve as the major replacement, and Toyota is counting on research that suggests customers in the long run will prefer fuel cell cars over plug-in hybrids. The government of Japan is strongly backing the transition to hydrogen power.
With all the chatter about the Hyperloop competition of late, it comes as no surprise that another innovator is making Hyperloop news. James Powell, of the Maglev Train fame, has filed a patent in which he brings together what, at first, might seem to be two entirely unrelated technologies: the Hyperloop and space technology. In his version, the Hyperloop will be able to launch space vehicles without requiring a rocket engine. The recent patent application includes a newly optimized design for launching small satellites on the order of 100 kilograms. His SpaceTram would incorporate an airtight tube with a magnetically levitated vehicle within it. With friction minimized and one end of the airtight tube lifted at an angle with the Earth, the vehicle inside the tube would travel at high speeds and would come close to Earth’s escape velocity. It’s sci fi brought a little closer to our own life and times.
What would you think if you saw a UPS driver load a package into the belly of a drone and watch it get delivered the a customer’s doorstep? Well, in this story on our week in review, that’s what happened in a test run this week in rural Florida of the Workhorse drone named HorseFly. Coming in at 9.5 pounds, the drone has eight rotors and can stay aloft for 30 minutes. UPS, which has 66,000 drivers worldwide, has the capacity to save $50 million annually if it could cut just one mile off each routes daily.
Photo credit: University of Salford via Foter.com / CC BY