The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Autos

Shift gears on Toyota's bike with your mind alone

When you're pedaling along the open road on a bike, sometimes shifting gears is a drag. That's when Toyota's mind-controlled bike may come in handy.

The minimalistic-looking bike, made in conjunction with Saatchi LA, Parlee Cycles and Deeplocal, comes with a built-in smartphone dock, a carbon-fiber frame -- and a helmet that reads electrical brain activity.

Getprev Developed by human/digital interface specialists Deeplocal, the helmet is stuffed with neurotransmitters that allow riders to shift gears "without using a single one of their appendages," according to the bike's webpage. Think "gear shift," and that command is sent to an iPhone app, which in turn controls the bike and makes it obey your wishes.

It supposedly only takes a few minutes for the helmet to adjust to your individual brain waves to allow for smooth gear shifting on the road. There are also levers for manual shifting -- you know, in case the force is not with you that day.

The Prius X Parlee (PXP) concept bicycle is part of Toyota Prius Projects, which could eventually be a cool incubator for innovative side projects by the folks at Prius, but for now is a mishmash of random factoids about their Prius hybrid, plus some extras.


Mind reading is on the market

Mind controlled apps hit the market

Toyota's 'Window to the World' concept makes car windows interactive

-- Shan Li

Upper Photo: The Toyota mind-controlled bike prototype. Lower: A helmet to shift gears on the Toyota bike. Credit: Toyota Prius Project

Madison, Wis., snags Guinness record for longest hybrid parade

Photo: An aerial view of the parade. Credit: Smart Motors Last weekend, a line of 208 hybrid cars snaked through city streets, but not in tree-hugging Berkeley or the technology hotbed of New York.

This was the cheese-loving lake community of Madison, Wis., which scored a Guinness world record on Sunday for the longest hybrid parade.

Apparently, having the highest percentage of people with PhD's wasn’t a good enough record. Bet it feels good beating Belgium, which held the previous title with a measly 140-car event last year.

Starting and ending at the Smart Motors dealership, the 2.1-mile route was crammed with Toyota Priuses, Ford Escape hybrids, Honda Insight hybrids and more, with drivers from 10 states and Canada.

The vehicles, according to organizers, stuck mostly to their electric modes, making it one of the quieter parades in memory.


Electric cars about to cost more in California

Yellow hybrid stickers for carpool lanes set to expire

Toyota, Ford hybrid vehicles rank highest

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: An aerial view of the parade. Credit: Smart Motors

Toyota's 'Window to the World' concept makes car windows interactive

 Automakers these days are all abuzz about interactivity, integrating voice-activated calling functions, personalized Internet radio access and a slew of other fancy telematics into the dashboards of their vehicles.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s busy gazing out the window.

In a concept project, Toyota Motor Europe and the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design envision car windows as touchscreens that allow passengers to interact with the passing scenery.

Dubbed the “Window to the World,” the glass would be used like an Etch-a-Sketch toy, where riders can trace objects they see outside to create a drawing. They would also be able to see a zoomed view of distant objects or gauge their distance from the vehicle.

Take a look above.

But car windows are leaping to life in other ways too.

Last month, digital marketing agency Fusion92 debuted a prototype of an interactive window sticker as part of an experiment for Cadillac. The sticker -- displaying the standard information about price, fuel economy and more -– becomes a touchscreen kiosk in the presence of customers.

The sticker would provide customized details, such as updated prices, loan payments and informative videos. See it in action below.


Consumer Electronics Show: Automakers showcase technology to go

-- Tiffany Hsu [follow]

OnStar rear-view mirror: On sale Sunday for non-General Motors cars

Starting this weekend, drivers can replace their rear-view mirrors with an OnStar communication system, even if they don't drive General Motors cars.

Once the OnStar FMV goes on sale at Best Buy stores Sunday, the celebrated OnStar service will no longer be exclusive to GM cars and trucks with built-in OnStar devices.

The FMV -- the name stands for "for my vehicle" -- is an aftermarket rear-view mirror that can be installed in 90 million vehicles from automakers such as Toyota, Ford, Honda and Nissan.

First announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the $299.99 device will cost $75 to install. Service plans start at $18.95 a month or $199 a year. The product soon will be available at Fry’s Electronics and other retailers as well.

The system has the same core features as OnStar systems built into GM vehicles. For example, using hands-free, voice-activated calling, drivers can ask dispatchers at GM's OnStar unit for directions, which are then downloaded to the vehicle and read aloud in the car. If a built-in accelerometer detects the sudden shock of a crash, the system will automatically call OnStar to send emergency help.


CES: GM OnStar rear-view mirror works in non-General Motors cars

Microsoft and Toyota building new cloud-based telematics system for 2012 release

CES: Pioneer links smart phones with car navigation systems

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: The new OnStar FMV system. Credit: OnStar

Carmageddon: Yes, it will be live-streamed online


Carmageddon -- the much anticipated (feared?) shutdown of the 405 Freeway from the 101 to the 10 this weekend -- may force many Angelenos to stay in their homes, maybe even ride a bike to get around and, hopefully, stay away from traffic that is expected to be widely congested.

If you'll be one of those staying in and surfing the Web, the California Department of Transportation is live-streaming video of traffic and construction for those who want to keep an eye on just what's going on around the 405.

As noted by the website Gigaom, Caltrans offers up streams of video from multiple cameras (the feed switches every few seconds) on the 134 and 405 freeways, the 10, 105 and 605 and 101 and 110.

Also, be sure to check out the L.A. Times' extensive coverage of all things Carmageddon.


Carmageddon could result in 20-mile backup on 405

Carmegeddon: Full coverage of the 405 Freeway closure

Colbert on Carmageddon: "We prayed this day would never come"

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: Traffic on the 405 in West Los Angeles. Credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press        

Toyota Prius Plug-in, electric RAV4 showcased at Little Tokyo Design Week

Toyota’s eco-friendly autos are center stage at a Little Tokyo event this weekend showcasing new technologies and designs from Japan.

Visitors to the Little Tokyo Design Week area can peek inside the Prius Plug-in hybrid, the RAV4 EV battery-electric vehicle and the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Hybrid vehicle that are sitting in the plaza beside the Japanese American National Museum.

The Prius Plug-in will be able to run for 13 miles on power from its Lithium-ion battery, according to Toyota. More than 160 of the vehicles are already being driven in the U.S. as a demonstration program before sales start in earnest next year.

Toyota is working with Tesla on the electric RAV4, which is also expected to become available to buyers in 2012. Meanwhile, the automaker plans to spread more than 100 of its advanced fuel-cell vehicles around the country by 2013 through another demonstration program, with hopes of bringing the technology to market by 2015. 

The rest of the event, which lasts through Sunday, involves more than 15 steel storage containers acting as temporary exhibit space.

The Giant Robot retail chain has a makeshift gallery featuring products such as a “crunching dog” USB stick with a model canine doing sit-ups on the end. There’s a “Robot Box,” with various automatons and other machines. Representatives from USC, UCLA and SCI-Arc have their own boxes too.

Near the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, there’s an extended garden set up on stilts with tomatoes, carrots and beans.


Toyota expands its Prius line

Toyota-Tesla plan to build electric RAV4 shows partnership is serious

Consumer Electronics Show: Robots, robots, everywhere!

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A Toyota Prius Plug-In on display at the Frankfurt Auto Show in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2009. The model is being exhibited this weekend as part of Little Tokyo Design Week. Credit: Ferdinand Ostrop / Associated Press

Flying car cleared for highway use


The first flying car just got one step closer to gliding, and then driving, onto the market.

On June 30th the Transition Roadable Aircraft, as the car-plane hybrid is called, was granted a series of special exemptions by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that make the car operable both in the air and on the road.

So what kinds of special exemptions does a "roadable aircraft" (best name ever) need? Well, special windows, for one. Regular laminated automotive safety glass is too heavy for the Transition while in the air, and there's always a danger that a bird could fracture it. (Dang birds!) Instead of glass windows, the Transition will use a polycarbonate material less prone to shattering. NHTSA also signed off on the use of special tires.

It all sounds very excitingly sci-fi, and in a way it is — the car really does fly. But it is really more of an airplane that can drive on the road, rather than a car that can fly in the air. We're not in Jetson-land yet.  

The Transition had its first test flight/drive in 2009 (see the video above), and Terrafugia Inc., the company that is developing the plane-car, says it is scheduled to be available by the end of 2012.

When the vehicle does go on sale, consumers can expect to pay $250,000 to live the future.


Southern California played major role in Space shuttle technology

Space shuttle's allure fostered a different breed of astronaut

NASA awards millions to four firms to privately develop rockets and spacecraft

--Deborah Netburn

Nevada authorizes driverless cars (like the ones at Google)


Some believe that drivers are to cars as fish are to bicycles, and the state of Nevada has agreed and passed a bill this week approving driverless vehicles on its roads.

Assembly Bill 511, the first such legislation in the country, allows the state’s Department of Transportation to draw up rules that would authorize driverless cars. The regulations would include safety standards, insurance requirements and testing sites.

A driverless car is defined by the bill as using “artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator.” That includes technology such as lasers, cameras and radar.

So far, such driverless cars have logged more than 140,000 miles on California roads as part of a Google endeavor.

Stanford University robotics professor Sebastian Thrun, a project leader on Google’s effort, said that nearly all driving accidents are due to human error rather than mistakes by machines.

"Do you realize that we could change the capacity of highways by a factor of two or three if we didn't rely on human precision on staying in the lane but on robotic precision, and thereby drive a little bit closer together on a little bit narrower lanes and do away with all traffic jams on highways," he said in a speech at the TED 2011 conference in Long Beach this spring.

In Europe, efforts are underway to create “car platoons,” in which drivers could hook their vehicles up electronically with others to form a chain controlled by the first vehicle in the line.

The SARTRE project, which stands for Safe Road Trains for the Environment, envisions convoys of cars led by a professional driver in front, allowing drivers in the back to kick back and relax. Wirelessly controlling the distance and speed between cars in the caravan can cut back on accidents, improve fuel efficiency and limit congestion, researchers believe.


Google's Driverless Car project is personal for engineer Sebastian Thrun

'Smart' traffic lights could remotely stop vehicle engines -- IBM patent application

IBM's innovation predictions include holograms, cars that predict traffic

--  Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Cars back up at the intersection of Valley Boulevard waiting to turn on to Fremont Street in Alhambra. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times

Electric-vehicle maker Think files for bankruptcy in Norway



Electric-vehicle maker Think Global has filed for bankruptcy in Norway, its home country.

The company is among the older manufacturers of battery-powered cars, emerging more than 20 years ago and launching its Think City model in 1999. Think has struggled on its own, after being released by Ford Motor Co., which was its owner from 1999 until 2003. 

A court-appointed trustee will manage the company in the interests of creditors, the company said in a statement.

"THINK filed for bankruptcy after failing to attract adequate capital to continue funding operations," the statement said.

"We needed some additional funding, and although we had interested investors, they were not able to come to the table quickly enough," Think spokesman James Andrew told Automotive News Europe.

The all-electric, zero-emission cars can travel 100 miles on a single charge, using lithium-ion batteries made in Indiana, Think said.

But with a price tag above $30,000, the tiny urban car has had to compete against other clean-tech vehicles such as the Nissan leaf and the Chevrolet Volt. Just a few months ago, Think began delivering its first vehicles to the U.S. and had planned to expand the rollout later this year.

A North American subsidiary based in Dearborn, Mich., is not included in the bankruptcy, though the trustee will eventually decide the unit's fate. Initial production on what the company had hoped would be 20,000 cars a year had started last year at a factory in Elkhart, Ind. 

There are 10,000 Think vehicles on the road, the company has said. Some have been adapted as ambulances in the Netherlands, cargo vans in Finland, taxis in Norway, mail carriers in Tokyo or as race cars in Europe.


Norwegian electric-car maker Think revs up funding

U.S. government buys its first electric vehicles

-- Tiffany Hsu [follow]

Photo: Think's plant in Aurskog, Norway. Credit: Dan Neil /Los Angeles Times 

Pope may get a hybrid popemobile, Vatican says


Papal concerns about excessive consumerism and climate change might have more oomph if delivered from an eco-friendly car.

By the end of the year or early next year, the current popemobile could be replaced by a hybrid, energy-saving Mercedes-Benz for Pope Benedict XVI’s travels abroad, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told the Associated Press.

The pope has supported greening in other ways, overseeing the installation of solar panels on the Vatican’s main auditorium and chiding world leaders for fumbling climate change talks.

Read more at The Times’ Greenspace blog or see a photo gallery of the popemobile through the years.


How the pope is saving Earth

Yellow hybrid stickers for carpool lanes set to expire

-- Tiffany Hsu [follow]

Photo: Pope Benedict XVI arrives on his popemobile to celebrate a mass in Serravalle's stadium in San Marino Sunday. Credit: Andrew Medichini / Associated Press


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