Start-up of the Day: Vialytics quickly registers road conditions

How do self-driving cars handle potholes on the road? As just stay driving ahead or spontaneously around them aren’t an option. You have to take the bull by the horns, that’s what the founders of vialytics were thinking. They designed a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to map out road conditions. This is how the road authorities can deal with the problems as quickly as possible. Danilo Jovicic, who founded the start-up together with Achim Hoth and Patrick Glaser, explains how the system works.

The founders of vialytics GmbH, (from left to right) Achim Hoth, Patrick Glaser, Danilo Jovicic ©vialytics

How did you come up with the idea of setting up vialytics?

We wanted to do business as an independent company and set up our own start-up. We got to know each other through the Activatr and Pioniergeist start-up programs. It was by coincidence that we then got together in a small group. That’s where the idea of doing something with road management took shape. We came up with a lot of wild ideas for a couple of weeks. We also had a lot of contact with municipalities who told us about problems concerning road management. The overarching issue there was autonomous traffic. We thought carefully about what you need to do in order to be able to drive safely autonomously. That invariably comes down to good roads.

What does your product look like?

Municipalities can continuously monitor their streets with our system. This is done with the help of a modified smartphone mounted on the windscreen of a municipal service vehicle. On a sweeper, for instance. These are at any rate always out and about in the city. The smartphone records the road every 4 meters.

This data is subsequently sent to us. It is then analyzed using an algorithm. Any damage to the road is automatically detected this way. The municipalities get the data back again in the form of a dynamic map. As they are better informed about the condition of the roads, they can react more quickly to any damage. This leads to a more sustainable and efficient way of road management. After all, plenty of municipalities don’t address the maintenance of their streets until it is far too late. Which means that the costs are also much higher. Current systems do not offer a proper solution. Those recordings are actually made with too great a time frame between each other. Nor are they carried out systematically.

Was there a problem you had to resolve first?

It was particularly difficult in the beginning to gain the trust of municipalities. This was mainly due to the fact that municipalities rarely cooperate with start-ups here. We set up 5 pilot projects where our system was tested. Thanks to the positive reactions we received, we have now managed to build up a customer base of 50 municipalities throughout Germany. Currently, we are also in contact with cities in other countries who are interested in our product.

What are you especially proud of?

We are especially proud of our first customers who have dispelled any preconceptions that local councils are a bit stuffy. Some of them were so enthusiastic about our solution that they bought the system before it had even been fully developed. Of course, we are also very proud of our team, which has expanded considerably over the last 6 months. Our employees are busy developing the product on a daily basis.

©vialytics

What does the future of vialytics look like?

Our goal is that of internationalization. We want road authorities all over the world to be able to maintain their road networks in an efficient and sustainable manner. Apart from that, we will continue to work on improving things so that we can keep on responding to the requests of our customers.

What tips do you have for other starters?

Do you have a good idea? Jump into the deep end and dare to make your dreams come true. And for those who have already set up a company: at some stage, take each employee along with you to a client. That’s what you’ll learn the most from.

More articles on start-ups can be found here.

 

Interview: Electric buses are booming in Poland

Most people wouldn’t have guessed it, but there is no other European country where electric buses for public transport are as popular as they are in Poland. An important reason for this is that Poland is itself a large manufacturer of electric buses. It is estimated that about a third of all electric buses in Europe are manufactured in Poland.

Primus inter pares is bus and tramway manufacturer Solaris. Which is heading for a market share of about 20% on the European continent this year. Volvo, Scania, MAN and Rafako E-Bus also make electric buses in Poland.

Innovation Origins had an interview with the head of e-mobility development at Solaris, Mateusz Figaszewski:

Solaris is one of the biggest European electric bus producers. How many of these buses are going to the local Polish market?

The number of electric vehicles that Solaris delivers to Polish customers changes from year to year. Altogether, our company has delivered over 360 battery vehicles to customers in 18 European countries, including 119 in Poland.

Furthermore we have over 500 orders for our electric Urbino buses, of which 194 will be delivered to local Polish customers in 2019 and 2020.

Which Polish cities are using your E-buses and how many electric buses are there in Poland?

The cities in Poland where our battery vehicles can be found are: Inowrocław, Jaworzno, Kraków, Ostrołęka, Warszawa, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Września, Chodzież, Katowice, Sosnowiec, Stalowa Wola, Ciechanów, Rzeszów, Ostróda, Bełchatów, Łomianki. Other cities with vehicles on order are: Kutno, Miechów, Poznań, Radom, Tychy and Włocławek.

The E-bus market in Poland is comprised of 155 vehicles at the moment, 119 of them have been manufactured by Solaris. Another 254 units are on order, 194 of which are from Solaris.

Mateusz Figaszewski

What can we expect in the next few years where electrification of public transport is concerned?

The aim of the European Commission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 by at least 60% before now and 2050. One of the ways to achieve this is to transform and electrify the European transportation sector, including urban public transport.

In line with that target, 50 European cities have already signed the “Clean Bus Deployment Initiative” – a declaration of intent on promoting large-scale deployment of clean, alternatively fueled buses. Many of these European cities have opted for electric buses.

The European electric bus fleet has already increased nearly 15-fold over the past 5 years. Still, we are convinced that we will see a further increase in the volume of orders. According to estimations from the ZeEUS program from UITP, 22% of all new bus registrations in 2020 will be electric and this number will continue to rise up to 45% by 2030.

The rest of the bus fleet will be at least partially electric driven or based for instance on hydrogen.

How important are European subsidies for the transition to environmentally friendly buses?

European and local subsidies from European Member States are crucial for maintaining the speed of market growth. Without them, many customers could face difficulties in securing budgets for the procurement of zero-emission vehicles. This is especially important nowadays as the technology is still relatively new. Therefore that makes it more expensive in the deployment phase than is the case for combustion vehicles.

Once we manage to achieve a scale-effect with higher order volumes, the prices for individual customers will also start to be more and more affordable.

Having said that, it should be pointed out that as a supplier we also see a growing interest in electric vehicles from private transport operators who are not subject to government subsidies. Running on electricity is cheaper than diesel.

What is Solaris’s market share in the European electric bus market?

The market share for Solaris in 2018 was 17%. This put our company in 2nd place in Europe with the United Kingdom included. However, if we take just the European mainland into account, last year we ended up as the market leader.

As 2019 is still underway, we are unable to give an exact number. We did however secure over 20% of orders placed for electric buses this year in Europe.

One problem in Poland is that electric buses need power and this power still largely comes from (dirty) coal. When do you think this will change?

First of all this is a question that should be addressed to policy makers. But as far we can see, all of the political parties in Poland, including the leading party, are aware of the need for decarbonization of different branches of industry, including the energy sector.

The pace at which this will be introduced is, however, very hard to estimate. As the country’s leading manufacturer of an ecological means of public transport, we strongly support any activities geared towards the transition to reusable sources of energy and making our energy sector more efficient and sustainable.

Start-up of the day: Energy Floors is making smart parking spaces in Rotterdam

Over the coming year, Rotterdam’s Energy Floors wants to sell smart surfaces for public outdoor spaces that generate data, measuring how many cars, pedestrians and cyclists are passing by. These can be used to regulate traffic flows and lighting, for instance. These Smart Energy Floors also generate energy via the solar cells that are integrated in them. At the moment, the Rotterdam municipality is on the lookout for a suitable location for the application of this kind of energy surface in a city parking lot, says Michel Smit, CEO of Energy Floors. A trial of this is planned for 2020 in cooperation with the Engie energy company.

What motivated you to set up Energy Floors and what problem has this resolved?

“Our first idea was to create a Sustainable Dance Floor on which people can dance to generate energy, something that you can actually see because the tiles light up. (By converting the vertical movement of the dancer on the floor into rotational movement through a mechanism underneath the flexible floor tiles so as to generate energy, ed.) That idea originally came from two companies: Enviu and Döll. In 2017, they brought me in as a hands-on expert from the club scene. I had been running a large nightclub in Rotterdam for four years, called Off-Corso. They wanted to bring sustainability to the attention of young people and thought that the Sustainable Dance Floor could help with that.

Unlike today, it was difficult to get young people interested in sustainable energy at that time. It had a bit of a stuffy image. We initially tried out that first version of that dance floor at the Rotterdam pop stage Watt (which went bankrupt in 2010, ed.) – that made it the first sustainable club in the world. We started building our business around that first Sustainable Dance Floor.”

What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

“That we had customers for the Sustainable Dance Floor before we had the actual product. At first, we only had a drawing of the floor, an artist’s impression. We worked out the concept and technology with TU Delft and TU/e in Eindhoven. And together with Daan Roosegaarde, we were able to further develop the interaction between the public and the technology. This is where our Sustainable Dance Floor is unique: the interaction between people and sustainably-generated energy. When they dance harder, they generate more energy.

This is what we want to offer people when it comes to our business proposition. That they themselves have an influence on improving the sustainability of energy. We want commitment. This is what we are specifically focusing on. The second obstacle was how we could go about expanding the scale for things that this product can be used for. So that it has a real impact. That’s why we wanted a surface that was suitable for large permanent fixtures in outdoor areas. We had to drop our initial unique selling point – as in ‘human energy’ – for this type of surface. Instead, we came up with our Smart Energy Floor. We use solar energy rather than kinetic energy. Otherwise, the project would be impossible to complete. The system has to be cost-effective, robust and resistant to wear and tear.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“That we sold 25 of those Smart Energy Floors to schools last year. Three of them in Germany and the rest in The Netherlands. As a company, we have three business propositions: the Dancer for clubs and discotheques, for example, the Gamer for schoolyards and the Walker for large outdoor facilities. The first Walker in the Netherlands is located near Croeselaan in Utrecht on a crossing opposite Rabobank’s head office. Rabo has partly financed this floor. There is also one in the palace garden of the President of Malta. He found us via Google. It is a public garden with a Gamer and a Walker. A Gamer costs 13,000 euros including the installation. While a Walker is available from 25,000 euros.

The fact that we appeal to people all over the world doesn’t surprise us at all. Our first signed contract was with the producer of Absolute Vodka. He wanted to make a road show around New York with our dance floor in 2009. So, that’s what we did. We get two to three requests a day. Our challenge is to be able to deal with these properly. Because we want to keep on innovating too. As an example, you could also use the Smart Energy Floor on motorways if you developed the software for that.”

 What can we expect from Energy Floors over the coming year?

“We want to start selling more Walkers. This is a new market for us that has a lot of potential. Smart city projects that you can use it in are much larger projects than what we have done so far. You could equip bike paths with our technology so that you can turn them into walkways. We are going to do a smart parking trial next year together with Engie and the municipality of Rotterdam. We will be installing  a Walker for that reason. The energy generated by the solar cells in the surface goes to the electricity grid and can subsequently be used to charge cars. Currently, we’re looking around for a suitable location.

We are also planning to enter the German market. This fits in well with our product and company. There is plenty of capital there and focus on sustainability. And the German way of doing business isn’t that different from the Dutch way of doing business.”

What is your ultimate goal?

“Ultimately, we want our Smart Energy Floors to be used in all the world’ s major cities and have their data connected to each other. You can learn a lot from each other’s experiences. You could monitor and influence the behaviour of the users of our surfaces on city roads. For example, in order to regulate busy situations at certain locations. You can apply the technology in a smart way. If there are very few people driving or walking on the road, you could turn the lights off in the evening.”

‘A Tesla for people who like to play Rambo’

Each week we take a look with EV specialist and Innovation Origins columnist Auke Hoekstra at what caught his eye on topical issues or what he runs into when it concerns the preservation of our planet.

Nobody will have missed it: The presentation of the Tesla Cybertruck. The opinions are divided – from unbelievably ugly to brilliant and everything in between.Though Tesla is getting a lot of pre-orders. Elon Musk posted the latest update on Twitter: more than two hundred thousand orders.

Auke learned a lot about Tesla’ latest model on Twitter. He is advocating a ban on these kinds of ‘juggernauts’ in the city.

Read the thread

What bothers you so much about the new design?

“Have you seen how huge it is? Maybe this is more suitable as a lunar vehicle. Or for people who are expecting to be attacked. But no one really needs such a huge vehicle, do they? It’s also about the signal that you are sending as a driver. It looks extremely aggressive. Like: ‘We’re just going to shove you off the road for now.’ This is everything you do not want to have in a city. It’s as if a driver feel superior to the rest of the traffic. Surely that can’t be the intention.”

“On the other hand, I do understand the thrill, I’m still a small boy who loves fun toys too. A Maserati is also super cool. When it comes to its looks, I can imagine that people find it futuristic and a pretty good thing. It is definitely something different for once. These reactions do make me think, yet I’m still overwhelmed by the feeling that it is a war truck.”

“So long as there are no proper rules to keep these antisocial tanks out of the city, I’m just glad that there are electric alternatives.” Auke Hoekstra.

How would you rather see it?

“It’s mainly about the signal you’re sending and that’s just wrong. To what extent can you still call it a sustainable car? It takes up a tremendous amount of space, has a lot of material around the wheels and is not at all aerodynamic. Tesla uses a stainless steel construction which is super heavy. On Wikipedia it says – for what it’s worth – that this model weighs about 3,000 kg. This causes the tires to wear out faster and it also means that there has to be a massive battery in there …”

Suddenly on the other side of the phone connection there are sounds of mumbling and tapping on a keyboard. Auke is busy with the math. “… They say that you should be able to drive at least 800 kilometers on a fully charged battery. I take that with a pinch of salt, they base that on the most favorable conditions. But let’s assume for the sake of convenience that it’s true, then my guess would be that it has to contain at least a 200 kWh battery, maybe even bigger.”

“”Even if you were to drive around using completely green electricity, you’d still need a substantial supply of raw materials in order to produce such a huge battery. That’s not a justifiable approach.”

Already the response on Twitter was that you shouldn’t complain so much: this car isn’t meant for compact Dutch cities at all, does that make you change your mind?

“I definitely don’t deny that they drive in much larger cars in the US, for example, where that trend has been going on for much longer. Oil is cheap and there are certain tax advantages to larger cars. But you are also seeing more and more of those SUV’s here. These cars have one major feature: driver safety. You are shielded and yet you don’t get any sense of the vulnerability of pedestrians and cyclists.”

“It bothers me that the design of these forts on wheels does not take those vulnerabilities into account. Quite a lot of research is being done on outboard airbags, or bumpers that have extra give. But that’s not nearly enough. Much more attention needs to be paid to safety on the outside.”

Can Tesla change any of this?

Auke starts laughing, a video can be heard in the background:

“The claim that the glass is unbreakable, turns out to be a bit off the mark.”

But according to him, the car manufacturer is keeping up with current trends by making these kinds of claims. As in an indestructible all-terrain vehicle. “They hit the side of it with a giant sledgehammer in order to prove that the model doesn’t give way. You can imagine what happens to a person when he is hit by a car that doesn’t budge an inch. That is not going to end well. This criticism is not only directed at Tesla, but at all manufacturers.”

“Consumers also have a responsibility here. When you buy such a thing, you are actually telling the rest of your surroundings: you’re out of luck, I’m driving here. What are these huge cars doing in the city anyway? Studies show that these types of vehicles are more dangerous. Maybe we should also give people who want to play at being Rambo in the city a higher level of liability.”

Lastly, can you find anything positive in this new model?

“Evidently this is what it takes to get people out of their fossilized pickup trucks. So long as there are no proper rules to keep these antisocial tanks out of the city, I’m just glad that there are electric alternatives.”

Two ex-Lightyear employees present budget solar car for city use

Munich already had its own budget solar car, so today a Dutch version will be added especially designed for the city: the Squad (solar quad). The idea came from two former Lightyear employees who wanted to design an affordable solar car for a large group of consumers.

Two passengers can sit next to each other in this 45 km/h solar car and there is enough space for luggage in the boot. The Squad combines the practical convenience of a scooter with the comfort and stability of a city car. Sheet metal and doors have been omitted in order to make the car as light and cheap as possible. The Squad costs almost €6,000.

More about solar cars can be found here.

The solar car can automatically charge up to 9,000 kilometers per year using its own sunroof. This is all it takes for users to drive 30 kilometers or about an hour emission-free every day, according to Squad Mobility’s CEO Robert Hoevers. “Most vehicles in this segment don’t drive much more than 6,000 kilometers each year. But if users need extra range, it can be recharged directly from a regular power outlet. Fully charged, you could drive up to 100 kilometers. Consumers can also opt to order additional battery packs for more range.”

Old cities need new solutions

In Hoevers’ opinion, emissions and congestion are the biggest problems associated with urban mobility. “Our old cities are not equipped for cars. In the Netherlands, we are seeing a trend towards further urbanization, with 90% of city dwellers living in suburbs and surrounding areas. All of these people like to go to the city regularly. For work, school, going out or shopping. This is not feasible in the end. Public transport and cycling are excellent solutions, yet they’re not a good alternative for everyone. For instance when it rains or if you live far from a bus stop or station.”

Parked cars take about 10 square meters of space, he says, while a Squad only needs 2 square meters. ” You can park five Squads on the same spot as one car, crosswise on a parking lot. You don’t have to take open doors into account when parking, that saves space.”

Hoevers works together with Chris Klok and is responsible for the design of the solar car. Together they have more than 40 years of experience in mobility. From scooters to motorcycles, the FIA Formula E, solar cars and even flying cars. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the design of the Squad. The compact dimensions were a major challenge. We wanted to move away from the ‘archetypal car’ in which people move through the city in a small closed-off cage. The objective was to create a more social, interactive experience whereby passengers are involved in the social setting of their urban environment while experiencing comfort and protection from the elements. A complete roll cage with seatbelts and the stability of 4 wheels provide maximum safety for all passengers. Helmets aren’t necessary.”

From A to B quickly, easily, safely

The Squad solar car has also been designed with shared services platforms in mind. Hoevers: “Users of these platforms want to get safely from A to B quickly and easily. Cities are looking for solutions with a minimal use of limited space and the lowest emissions. Automatic charging on solar energy is of course ideal for a shared services platform. The portable, interchangeable batteries minimize the ‘downtime’ that the Squad experiences when charging. In addition, its ruggedness, sturdiness and low maintenance levels are key demands in this market.” Subscription and lease options will be offered from 2020 onward. The aim is to keep the lease price below 100 euros per month.

At the same time, the company is also launching a variant with extra space in the boot and is thinking about releasing an 80km/h version in the future.

How harmful is microrubber to humans?

Microplastics is literally on everyone’s lips. Every person eats, drinks and breathes up to five grams of microplastics per week – and therefore basically eats a credit card. There’s not just a lot of microplastic in the air and in our drinking water. There is also another polymer that’s in everyday use: microrubber.

Drivers are familiar with this problem. Tires wear out and you have to buy a new set, for better or for worse. After all, depending on how you drive, a tire lasts about 40,000 kilometers until it has to be replaced. But where does all the rubber that originally made up the tire’s tread disappear to? It’s pretty obvious once you hit the brakes if you’re going fast. The black tracks on the asphalt are unmissable. Yet even without applying the brakes hard or taking off like a rally driver at the traffic lights, tires inevitably wear out and rubber is scattered all over the place.

Cars and trucks main source of microrubber

Researchers revolving around Bernd Nowack from the “Technology and Society” department of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) in St. Gallen have calculated that between 1988 and 2018 around 200,000 tonnes of micro-rubber had accumulated in the Swiss environment alone. Among other things, they examined the import and export data on tires in Switzerland. They then linked this to a model simulating how rubber behaves on the road and in wastewater. They also analyzed the wear and tear of surfaces such as artificial turf.

The results showed that car and truck tires are the main source of microrubber. Especially given that the removal of artificial green areas such as artificial turf played only a minor role, accounting for just 3 % as Nowacj states. The remaining 97 % was the result of tire abrasion. Roughly 3 % sticks to the right and left side of the road within the first five meters. Another 5 % in the nearby residual soil and almost 20 % in water bodies. Only a small part is distributed into the air which is constantly being stirred up.

© unsplash/Hannes Egler

Microrubber vs microplastics

The adverse effects of microrubber on humans are evidently less severe than those of microplastics. Christoph Hüglin from Empa’s Air Pollution / Environmental Technology department estimates that the impact is only minor. According to Hüglin, a study carried out in 2009 shows that the proportion of tire abrasion in inhaled fine particles is also in the low single-digit percentage range at traffic sites.

You can find articles on microplastics here.

Nevertheless, microplastics and microrubber cannot be lumped together. “These are different particles that can hardly be compared with each other,” says Nowack. Even if microrubber does not seem to pose any danger to humans, it should not be ignored. As the amount of released microrubber exceeds that of released microplastics many times over. The scientists have calculated that only 7% of the polymer-based microparticles released into the environment are made up of plastic. Whereas the remaining 93% are made up of microrubber. “The amount of microrubber in the environment is huge and therefore highly relevant,” Nowack underlines.

Hazardous heavy metals?

While Bernd Nowack stresses that there is no health risk from microrubber, there are other well known sources that do see a danger in the tiny rubber particles. In recent years in the USA, thousands of children’s playgrounds and sports fields have been equipped with rubber surfaces made of recycled tires. Not only parents but legislators as well are concerned about the health effects on children. Car tires are not just made of rubber, but contain a lot of materials that are believed to cause cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Chemicals such as sulphur and zinc oxide are used along with various metals such as lead and cadmium, as well as harmful plasticizers and fire retardants.

A group of Indian scientists conducted a study as early as 2014 with the aim of assessing the potential risk presented by rubber particles in the air. They performed a lung function test on 60 male employees at a rubber factory and a control group. The groups were divided according to the duration they were exposed to the microrubber particles. As in, 1-3 years, 4-7 years and 8-11 years. Group 1 was a control group.

After evaluation of all lung functions of the participants, group 2, 3 and 4 showed a significant decrease in lung function compared to the control group. The worst values compared to the control group were found in the subjects in group 4. They had been exposed to the microrubber for the longest period of time. These results would indicate that lung function was affected by microrubber particles and the severity of the effect depended on the length of exposure, the researchers wrote.

Start-up of the week: a Dutch solution for a Dutch problem

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

EP Tender: a powerbank on wheels

It’s a strange sight, but the battery trailer from the French start-up EP Tender is definitely a very serious plan. You can regard the vehicle as a kind of extra battery for electric cars. This increases the range of the electric car by a maximum of 150 kilometers. Useful for holidays abroad where there are less charging stations than in The Netherlands. For the start-up it is to be hoped that battery nanotechnology is not set to overtake this wee trailer in the next decade.

Credimi – Fast financing for start-ups

Often an ambitious innovative business model needs money. Money that those involved don’t always have in their own pockets. Of course, you could go to a bank to finance your project, yet that frequently takes up an incredible amount of time. What makes Italian Credimi different from other lenders is that they are very fast. An applicant knows within 48 hours whether or not they will receive the loan. And this can be very welcome if you need to act quickly in a volatile market.

Skinive – Pocket-sized dermatologist

Almost everyone has discovered something on their skin that they were a little concerned about. A birthmark you didn’t know existed. Or a type of rash, an innocent spot. Or perhaps it would be a good idea to see your family doctor after all? By using the app from the Belarus start-up Skinive, you can find out directly by pointing your phone’s camera at your skin and taking a few pictures. The app then matches the images with data from a database that contains a multitude of nightmares for hypochondriacs.

The project initially began with the aim of discovering the first stages of skin cancer.However, the founders soon figured out that their smart app also worked for many other conditions. And because the app works on any smartphone, skin research is more accessible than ever. Skinive just offers advice on dermatological conditions, but unfortunately it doesn’t help against hypochondria.

Hydrogenious – All hail hydrogen

That hydrogen has the potential to be used as a fuel has been known for some time now. And how nice it would be if this would also be possible to roll it out en masse. Hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas. It produces about three times more energy than the same amount of petrol and there is more than enough of it on earth. So much for the advantages. Hydrogen is quite flammable at room temperature. Something that is obviously not very practical when you want to travel by car. In addition, the gas has the lowest density of the entire periodic table of elements, which makes it extremely difficult to work with. The gas evaporates just like that.

The German team behind Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies wants to address and overcome these two disadvantages with an innovative bit of chemistry. The ambitious start-up devised a process whereby hydrogen can be stored without any risk of explosion. And that’s not all. They have also discovered a way in which the gas can be transported to the end user with a tanker or a pipeline. How great would it be if we no longer needed to reduce the use of environmentally hazardous fuels, but simply had a clean alternative that we could burn which never runs out?

Fieldfactors – Avoid wet feet with green fields

Climate change is likely to have serious consequences for the Netherlands. Due to the fact that half of the country is actually below sea level, the risk of flooding is constantly looming over our tiny hinterland. And this is not the sole threat. Heavy rainfall will be more frequent as a result of a warmer kind of climate. Excess rainwater has to go somewhere if you don’t want the streets to be flooded. This is especially a problem in built-up areas. It can be very difficult to get rid of water when everything is packed in tight. However, the Dutch wouldn’t be Dutch if they didn’t have an innovative solution for this. One of these is Bluebloqs, a system from the start-up Fieldfactors, whereby 95% of rainwater can be stored underground in a basin.

This storage technology not only keeps our feet dry, it also looks pretty green. The system is visible at street level in the form of a plant bed. This naturally enhances the appeal of the street scenes. A win-win situation. An underground system is currently being installed in Rotterdam and is also dealing with a third sore point. Climate change does not limit itself to heavier rainfall, but also to longer periods of drought. Thanks to the compact storage basin, rainwater can be stored for months and reused at any time.

The biggest job these ex-students from Delft University have done so far was to install a storm water drain near the Kasteel football stadium, the home of Sparta. The football field is being watered in a sustainable manner through this basin. The square in front of the station has become a lot greener. And the local residents are no longer inconvenienced by flooding.

That the Dutch are internationally known as experts in the field of water management has once again been by Fieldfactors. The initiators show that innovation does not necessarily have to involve high-tech gadgets. One can also look towards nature too. In fact, everyone benefits from this system at a time when a well thought-out irrigation policy is more important than ever. This is enough reason for us to reward Fieldfactors this week with the title of Start-up of the Week!

Realistic Routes to Paris (2): heavy-duty transport

Pixabay

As a celebration of its 10th anniversary, Automotive Campus Helmond, together with TNO, is organising the mobility debate “Realistic Routes to Paris”. In this debate, on 3 December, prominent guests from politics, science and the mobility industry will discuss a realistic way to achieve the Paris agreements, without bringing society to a full stop. The themes in the debate are passenger transport and Heavy-Duty. In two episodes, we look ahead to the discussion. Today: Jan Ebbing on the challenges of heavy-duty transport.

Electrification, fuel cells, hybrid: even in heavy-duty transport such as long-distance trucks and buses, all options are still open. Electricity seems a logical choice for urban distribution, but when can we also drive electrically across the continent, or will sustainable alternative fuels bring the solution? Diesel seems untouchable for the time being, but below the surface, there is already a lot of thinking about new infrastructure and production capacity.

For Jan Ebbing, programme manager at TNO, one thing is clear: “We have to reduce CO2 emissions, that’s a given and so our debate on 3 December will not deal with that question. What matters is whether, within that debate, there is sufficient attention for heavy-duty and how we can do something about it. The government has plenty of ideas about passenger transport, but does this also apply to bus and freight transport? That’s where it’s really different.”

In the case of passenger transport, the focus is now to a large extent on electric vehicles, while in the case of heavy-duty the focus is more nuanced. Ebbing: “There are certainly also people promoting e-trucks, but across the industry, there is a lot of scepticism as well. The transport sector’s problem is that rates are dominating the debate: margins are small; a truck that has to stand still for more than 10 minutes to refuel immediately puts the business at risk because another transporter can do it faster. Even with fast charging, electric driving becomes difficult for certain applications for that reason alone.”

Could a hybrid solution then offer a solution? Electric would suffice for the cities but beyond the city limits, we could simply keep using the traditional combustion engine. “That would partly solve the problem,” says Ebbing. “Of course, long stretches on diesel are not optimal. In addition to becoming hybrid, we will also have to look at dual fuel, diesel mixed with a biofuel, for example.” But also hydrogen gas is not unthinkable, according to Ebbing. “Natural gas can achieve a 20% reduction in your CO2 emissions, which is a serious option in the transition.”

By the way, Ebbing nuances that the bad image of diesel is no longer always justified. “Certainly not when it comes to clean air in cities. If you drive through the ‘dirty’ city with the most modern diesels, you are in fact purifying the air, that’s how clean it is now. But that doesn’t solve the CO2 problem, of course. Hence the idea of using dual-fuel to make a relatively quick impact.”

And then there is hydrogen, of course: the fuel that seems to offer a more logical solution for heavy-duty – trucks and buses, but also shipping – than for passenger transport. “Indeed, hydrogen fuel cells can easily be imagined for trucks. But that does not happen by itself. How, for example, are we going to transport hydrogen to the filling stations? It is a substance that is stored under high pressure, which requires a lot of logistics. Not every pump will be able to produce its own sustainable hydrogen.”

In short, no clear route has yet been determined for 2030, let alone 2050. But for Ebbing this does not mean that we can’t do anything. “There are still many hurdles to be overcome before we have the final solution. You can sit on your hands, but you don’t want to, because then you won’t reach the targets. What’s more: every year that we don’t achieve the CO2 reduction, the challenge for the following years will become even greater!”

Ebbing says there are steps to be taken in the short and long term. In the short term, he is thinking about making engines more efficient and also using low carbon and sustainable fuels. “The development of the hydrogen engine could really get a big boost. This should be able to produce results in a few years’ time, and we could also make a contribution to this at TNO. Only then – in parallel with this development – new choices regarding the storage of hydrogen will also be needed.”

For the long term, Ebbing is thinking of completely new engines. “Unfortunately they are still in the process of being designed. The government will also have to play a role here in order to stimulate this development.” This is also an opportunity for the Netherlands as a country. All in all, it is a complex puzzle, but, as Ebbing warns, “that should not lead us into a stalemate. We don’t know the outcome in 25 years’ time, but we do know that we have to spend the time we have left as best we can.”

Look here at the participants in this part of the debate. Tickets are still available: subscribe here.

Start-up of the Day: Hydrogen as the ‘crude oil’ of the future

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

Hydrogenious is the product of a university research team that already had faith in hydrogen when it still wasn’t really relevant in Germany. They have managed to find a way to store and transport the hard-to-handle hydrogen in a practical way. After a successful financing round, they now want to establish their LOHC technology worldwide and “make hydrogen the ‘crude oil’ of the regenerative era”, says co-founder Daniel Teichmann.

In terms of mass, hydrogen has three times the energy content of gasoline. This is an impressive feature for an energy source. However, hydrogen also has the lowest density of all gases and is therefore difficult to handle. It evaporates easily, is flammable and must be stored under high pressure or at low temperatures.

Evaporation and flammability

Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies took up the challenge and solved both evaporation and flammability issues. The start-up company developed a process whereby hydrogen can be stored and transported together with oil (dibenzyltoluene) without risk. The result? The existing infrastructure can be used. Not only the fuel tanks at service stations, but also the pipelines for transportation. This could pave the way for emission-free mobility and industry.

Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies is a spin-off from the Friedrich Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Managing director and co-founder Daniel Teichmann has been working in the field of LOHC (liquid organic hydrogen carriers) since the start of his PhD in 2009. The company was founded in 2013 as a result of a critical technological breakthrough, which was also co-developed by professors Peter Wasserscheid, Wolfgang Arlt and Eberhard Schlücker.

Dewatering system

What was already working under laboratory conditions could be implemented on a technical scale for the first time in 2016. The first LOHC dewatering system was commissioned at the Fraunhofer ILO in Stuttgart. Electrolysis and hydrogenation take place at the main site in Erlagen. The process works as follows:

  • The hydrogen is produced with the aid of solar energy using PEM electrolysis,
  • Hydrogen is hydrogenated through the chemical bonding of hydrogen molecules to the liquid carrier via catalytic reactions,
  • During the dehydrogenation process, catalytic reactions are again used to release the hydrogen molecules from the liquid carrier medium,
  • The carrier material is not wasted and can be reused again and again.

Target groups are the chemical industry as well as service stations and the chemical industry. Hydrogenious sells two types of equipment. These are storage facilities for use in hydrogen-producing wind farms for hydrogenation, and the so-called Release Box at service stations and industrial installations for dehydrogenation.

 

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious
LOHC recycling system with storage installation and a Release Box (c) Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

Innovation Origins spoke with Daniel Teichmann:

What is your motivation and what problem does the company resolve?

We believe in hydrogen as a renewable energy source. This motivated us to start the company in 2013. At that time, we could have developed the technology together with industrial partners, but we wanted to be in business.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome? Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

Giving up never occurred to us and fortunately there was never a reason to give up. However, setting up and developing a business is a huge challenge. At the start, it’s usually a matter of finding funding. In Germany, there is not really an explicit culture when it comes to venture capital. Things are different in the Anglo-Saxon world and in China. Six years ago, hydrogen was not yet playing an important role in Europe. This has changed over the past year. As a university spin-off, we started out with a technology that works at the laboratory level. We first had to bring it up to an industrial level and make it commercially relevant.

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies
Construction of the LOHC hydrogen infrastructure in the USA (c) Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

What have been the highlights so far?

The successful funding round in July 2019, where we found four partners who not only act as capital providers, but also make a strategic contribution. This was an important milestone in the history of hydrogen-based LOHC technologies.

What are the advantages of your location?

Erlangen is an ideal location for us because of its proximity to the university, whom we also work closely with. In addition, the availability of specialists here is very good. We are also very lucky with our landlords, they’ve provided us with an excellent office and workshop space.

Where will your company be in five years’ time?

We want to progress from our current demonstration level to the realization of large industrial projects. We want to establish a successful global positioning of the LOHC technology. With our technology, hydrogen can then be easily and efficiently transported over long distances. For example, from Africa to Europe. That is how we can make an emission-free industry happen.

What distinguishes your innovation from similar products in the hydrogen energy sector?

Hydrogen has been produced and stored as an industrial gas for one hundred years. Our technology means that using hydrogen in a liquid form is feasible which thereby means it can make use of the existing infrastructure. In this way, we are turning hydrogen into the emission-free fuel of the future. Similar technologies exist in Japan, although they are not exactly the same. We are the technological leaders with our LOHC. As such, we hope to make an important contribution towards combating climate change.

Are you interested in start-ups? Read all articles from our series here.

Also interesting:

TU Eindhoven is bringing hydrogen as a source of energy for households one step closer.

Mobility of the future – battery or hydrogen?

Smart City Expo: The rest of the world wants to know how the Netherlands innovates

The Smart City Expo World Congress takes place in Barcelona, with 25,000 visitors the largest in this field. Over 250 of them come from the Netherlands. Report from the Holland Pavillion.

It is a coming and going of international delegations at the booth where the Netherlands give a dazzling show showing how Dutch municipalities and companies are at the forefront in smart and green mobility and in making cities resilient to climate change. Whether it concerns KPN’s 5G field lab on the Automotive Campus, the technology with which engineering firm Sweco will be able to give priority to electric cars at traffic lights and thus make them more economical, Dutch municipalities and entrepreneurs are in no way inferior to other countries in terms of innovation.

Read moreSmart City Expo: The rest of the world wants to know how the Netherlands innovates

Car sharing, smaller batteries and better recycling needed to compensate for the nearing shortage of rare metals

amber oplaadpaal opladen

In order to be able to drive electrically, various rare metals are required. This will cause a problem in the near future. Replacing these metals with other raw materials can reduce our dependence. This is the simplest solution for society, but it is not technically feasible in the short term. That is why a shift will have to take place towards electric shared cars, cars with a smaller battery and better recycling. That’s what the report ‘Metaalvraag van Elektrisch Vervoer‘ by environmental scientist Benjamin Sprecher of Leiden University and organisations Copper8 and Metabolic concludes.

Current global production of some critical metals is reported to be insufficient for the large-scale shift to electric transport. Calculations for the Netherlands show that on the basis of a ‘fair share’ of the metal supply, the country could have no more than one million electric cars by 2030. However, in order to achieve the country’s climate targets, twice as many electric cars will have to be available. There are currently some 171,000 electric cars on the road in the Netherlands.

A number of specific metals that are crucial for electric vehicles – nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, cobalt, dysprosium and lithium – appear to be in short supply. In addition, these metals are also needed for other applications, such as solar panels, wind turbines and consumer electronics.

The “identified reserves” of the required metals are often sufficient. “However, this is not relevant, as availability is limited by production capacity. This production capacity has technical, economic and social limits.” In addition, geopolitical conditions may play a role in the availability of these metals. “Scarcity leads to increased competition, both between applications and between countries. Due to growing global demand for critical metals, the likelihood of geopolitical problems increases every year. Shortages or interruptions in the supply of critical metals can slow down the development of electric transport: something that we cannot use in our climate task.”

The researchers have six recommendations:

  1. Focus on new mobility concepts with fewer vehicles
  2. Invest in future-proof infrastructure and prevent lock-ins
  3. Encourage electric vehicles with small batteries for regional solutions
  4. Develop a Dutch critical metals recycling industry
  5. Support sustainable mining initiatives to minimise the impact on people and the environment
  6. Encourage the development of new battery types at European level
Critical metals needed for electric vehicles in the Netherlands, as a percentage of the worldwide annual production of these critical metals in 2020, 2025 and 2030. © Leiden University

“Let me start by saying that we are definitely not against the introduction of electric cars”, says Benjamin Sprecher, a researcher at the Centre for Environmental Sciences Leiden. “The transition to electric transport is important. However, we must be aware that this policy is not without consequences.” He explains, for example, that a greater demand for critical metals – which are also needed for solar panels and wind turbines – can be detrimental to nature. “Increased demand inevitably leads to the construction of new mines. In order to prevent inconvenience to humans, these will be located in remote areas, at the expense of already scarce nature reserves. We must be aware of this and ensure more sustainable mining.”

But that’s not enough, says Sprecher. “We consume an awful lot, so much so that it is no longer enough for us to have one earth. In the case of electric cars too, it is important that we look at ways to reduce the number of cars. Think of shared cars and better public transport.” Other solutions, such as new technologies that are less dependent on critical metals or the use of smaller batteries, are much less effective, but easier to implement.

Three scenarios for limiting the metal demand for electric transport. Scenario 1 looks at new battery technologies: socially simple, but technically unrealistic in the short term. Scenario 2 examines smaller batteries: this results in less range, but also in fewer metals. However, the effectiveness of this approach appears to be limited. Scenario 3 is by far the most effective, but also socially the most complex: by making more effective use of electric vehicles, fewer vehicles are needed and therefore also fewer metals. © Leiden University
Distribution of the production of metals for electric cars. © Leiden University

Best read: why a German-Flemish-Dutch megacity is not such a good idea

More and more people are moving into the city. In fact, in the coming years megacities are emerging where more than thirty million people live and work. It is by no means inconceivable that between now and 2025 about 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in these kinds of metropolises. With a population of 150,000 on average, Dutch cities cannot compete with this size. In order to keep its head above water, The Netherlands would do well to form a block together with Flanders and the German Ruhr region. Peter Savelberg, the innovator behind this Tristate City model, explained in last week’s best-read article how he envisages this. Savelberg believes that with a total of more than forty million inhabitants and know-how and a high level of prosperity and welfare, this block would be capable of competing with world cities such as Hong Kong.

A bad idea?

A bad idea according to Zef Hemel, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Amsterdam: “From an economic point of view, this kind of a metropolis is not at all attractive. Moreover, this urban model is not sustainable. An average Dutch person emits far more CO2 than someone in Hong Kong. There they use the metro to do everything, while here we travel plenty of kilometers by car. We have also lost out in the area of public transport, as we do not have a national metro network. The metropolitan area of Los Angeles does have that and it has about as many inhabitants as the Netherlands.”

Hemel clarifies that the idea which sees The Netherlands is one big city is not new. “Prime Minister Wim Kok was already saying that back in the mid 1990s. The national road network had just been completed and everyone could suddenly cross the country at high speed in just two or three hours.” The idea was that with the completion of the road network (and the simultaneous advent of the internet), it no longer mattered where someone was located. “But the opposite is true. This is the paradox we find ourselves in. More centralization has taken place since the completion of the national road network and the establishment of the internet. The pull factor of the center, referred to in The Netherlands as the Randstad, has only increased due to improved accessibility. Everyone wants to be a part of it.”

Inner cities are no longer bustling

As an example, Hemel mentions the move since the early 1990s of various head offices out of the provinces into Amsterdam. Perhaps the best-known example is Philips, which moved from Eindhoven to the main city in 1993. ” Concentration has increased since the 1990s. Research has shown that many city centers are no longer bustling, shops are empty and young people are moving to the Randstad because ‘that’s where it’s happening’.

This phenomenon is also seen in the healthcare sector. By merging hospitals, more and more towards the big city, regions are experiencing problems. The 45 minute standard for ambulances to get to a primary care center is under pressure and patients outside the Randstad have to travel further to get to a good hospital”.

University = diversity

When it comes to innovation, Hemel also does not see any advantage for The Netherlands in being one big city: “Cities play an important role in the knowledge economy. A good university with laboratories and researchers on a campus is not enough.

In America, you have college towns where the talent leaves after graduation. It only becomes interesting if a university is embedded in the metropolitan area. That’s when a university can profit from its proximity and from the availability of complex ecosystems. In New York you have Columbia, Cornell-Tech and NYU. These universities are among the best in the world. You can also see this reflected lower down the rankings, as there are state universities like the City University of New York (CUNY) that perform better than Dutch universities. That’s because they all benefit from New York’s diversity and critical mass. More people and widespread use of public transport. Fewer kilometers of traffic jams, because everyone uses the metro network.”

Hemel believes that there The Netherlands lacks the mentality to think in terms of a metropolis: “We don’t like it when people are banging their own drums like that. There’s the dutch saying: ‘Doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg‘ – (which means ‘act normal, that’s crazy enough.’ Comparable to ‘don’t stick your neck out’, ed.) The same goes for the universities. There is less tension and less variance between universities here. But that’s what is necessary in order to move forward.”

Acceptance is still a long way off

Spatial concentration is not just confined to the Netherlands: “In the past, we mistakenly thought that this only happened in developing countries. But it is also happening in France, Switzerland, Great Britain and Canada. Toronto has a strong magnetic pull in Canada. I think that we should not keep on resisting this, but should accept this phenomenon. That’s how we can prepare for it.”

But the professor has seldom seen that acceptance as yet. According to him, various ministries in the Netherlands are doing everything in their power to turn the tide.

“The government is trying to promote the spread of urban development outside of the main cities as much as possible through all kinds of regional programs. I can count a considerable number of initiatives to help the regions grow and move forward. It would be more sensible in terms of sustainability to accept that networking leads to greater spatial concentration. Seeing the Netherlands as one big city is possible, but we shouldn’t think that this will even everything out.” Hemel is convinced that this model will inevitably lead to major differences between urban and rural areas. Hemel: “It is an illusion that we would be able to keep residents in one big, country-wide, highly disparate and fragmented city.”

Tomorrow is Good: a higher speed limit for electric vehicles makes sense

The Netherlands is struggling with nitrogen emissions. Dutch lawmakers are trying to work their way towards compliance with the agreements made earlier in Paris. Nevertheless, they are still lagging behind on an international level.

In light of agriculture being one of the pillars for these emission measures, parliamentary plans to reduce their footprint has bumped up against fierce protests from farmers. There seems that there is no end in sight to this anytime soon.

Lowering the speed limit

One of the other key pillars concerns the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) emissions that are to be reduced by lowering the speed limit on highways from 130 to 100 km per hour according to a recently made decision.

For many, many years, Dutch lawmakers have been successfully promoting EV (Electric Vehicles) with tax incentives and campaigns to support electric transportation.

Rather curious

With that in mind, it is rather curious to me that the perspective absent in this 130>100km topic, is one which would allow EV cars to keep the 130km limit. Lowering the speed limit for these vehicles which have a lack of any actual NOx emissions, makes no sense. Although this may impact the number of accidents. Yet there is no significant gain for the emission footprint with the reduction of the speed limit for electric vehicles. On the other hand, maintaining the higher speed limit might even act as an incentive to drive electric vehicles.

Read moreTomorrow is Good: a higher speed limit for electric vehicles makes sense

Skis and other means of snow mobility – four new technologies

Skier, Wintersportgeräte

The first snow has long since fallen in the Alps. And the Christmas holidays aren’t that far away either. It’s high time to explore the latest options for snow mobility. Obviously, skiing is the most important branch of winter sports. Yet by no means the only one. All over the world, start-ups are tinkering with new technologies and bold combinations for winter sports options. The result is not always crystal clear.

At 4500 years old, skis are the most advanced winter sports equipment. However, further optimization is possible thanks to digitization.

1. Made-to-measure x mass production

The Austrian company Original+ has designed a self-learning online ski configurator. This system configures the right skis on the basis of answers to 21 personal questions with the help of artificial intelligence. The program has been developed in collaboration with the start-up Fact.AI. Basically the idea was to make individually adapted skis possible for a wide public. The Original+ models are available from €660.

Commercialization of custom-made skis was made possible by:

  • Automation of customer conversations;
  • A modular ski structure that allows for 600 ski designs;
  • Combining flexible ski production with precise series production;

Each ski model is made up of 32 parts that are adapted to the individual skier. The central element is the wooden core, which can be made of poplar wood, ash wood, or a combination of the two. The construction, processing and strength have an effect on the ski properties and are adjusted accordingly.

2. Snow shoes x skis

The desire to combine skiing with endurance sports has led to a wonderful ski touring movement. The combination of mountaineering and the subsequent downhill skiing called for a technological leap forward. The equipment had to be lighter and more flexible. This made it easier to climb as well as provide more grip during the descent. While this was still relatively simple as far as skiing was concerned, it was more difficult when it came to snowboarding. The ascent in particular was sometimes only possible with a splitboard. But not all snowboarders are satisfied with that. Drift, a brand from the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, designed an alternative and combined three elements:

  • the simplicity of snowshoes;
  • the speed of the skis;
  • the grip of touring skis;

Seasoned snowboarders only use driftboards for climbing. Once they’re at the top, they exchange them for a snowboard. The light and handy boards are easy to attach to a rucksack. They are lightweight thanks to the carbon material. The wooden core is not heavy either according to the makers. It gives the boards the stability that they need for the descent. Driftboards also function as stand-alone sports equipment. Shape and construction offer versatility and add a playful component to the descent. Its aluminium binding offers the extra advantage that it works with all boots.

 

3. Skis x downhill mountain bike

Three short skis and a saddle-free bike frame provide the basis for the Sno-go Bike. This fusion is not entirely clear. It does offer a totally new experience on snow. The American start up says that the bar should be set low initially. The three skis are able to move independently of each other. They provide control and stability together with the steering grips. Coordinated movements are made possible by synchronized coupling technology. Advanced skiers are also able to perform tricks such as turns and jumps on the Sno-go Bike.

Binding

The feet fit into a kind of binding. These aren’t really fastened, so you can easily move your feet in and out. For instance, you could use a foot to help push the bike off to a start. The inventors have also thought about how to transport the Sno-Go bike. A hook makes it possible to attach it to a chairlift. After use, the bike and skis can be disassembled so that they easily fit into the boot of the car.

 

4. Skis x skates

Would you want to glide across snow in shoes that have a slippery surface? It’s like skating on snow. You could also call them ‘snow-skates’, so say the inventors of Snowfeet, a Czech start-up. The idea of getting through snow with no more equipment than a binding on your shoe with a kind of ski tip is very tempting.

This winter sports gear is light, small, fits in any pocket and is easy to transport. The binding is adjustable in width and can be adapted to all shoes. It looks a lot like a binding for soft snowboard boots. You can use snowboard boots, but you don’t have to. Waterproof winter boots are also suitable as long as they provide ankle support. The gear is made of reinforced fiberglass and has metal edges for fast braking as well as heel brakes to slow down the ride. They can be used on and off the slopes as well as in snow parks. People with acrobatic ambitions can do somersaults with them as well …

Also interesting:

Ski technologies for effortless rides down the slopes

Tomorrow is Good: Go big or go home

Start-ups face challenges on many different levels and it’s the ultimate balancing game. You need to have a team in order to deliver your proposal. And in order to get a team, you need funding, and in order to get funding you need … well a team that is able to deliver your proof of concept. So it’s a vicious circle that’s got to give somewhere. In the early phases of a start-up, this cycle is often cut short by individuals that take a personal risk to make it work: angel investors. They believe in the team and the idea and are willing to make real commitments instead of merely offering support or mentorship.

At Lightyear we have been grateful to have received the support of these angels. We were able to build the company and form a fantastic team of highly skilled A-players that managed to deliver the first proof of our proposal last summer. They built our first motorized prototype, with a quality that led many industry veterans to compliment us on it. “Better quality than most prototypes I have seen from other car manufacturers”.

Next major challenge

Now the next major challenge is to go beyond a prototype to delivering our first cars to our customers. The time to market is one of the most important metrics for a start-up.

In order to really address climate change problems, we need to think big. By introducing a new system (solar cars) instead of optimizing old systems (hybrids) or only partially converting our old system (electrifying existing models), we will be able to achieve a much greater positive impact in the end.

Looking at the figures from Weterings et al you see where the challenges lie: it takes more time to do this. Generally, this is due to the parallel development that would be needed to design a new integrated, optimized system instead of merely optimizing some components of an old system.

Read moreTomorrow is Good: Go big or go home

Realistic Routes to Paris (1): passenger transport

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, Automotive Campus Helmond, together with TNO, is organising the mobility debate “Realistic Routes to Paris”. In this debate, on 3 December, prominent guests from politics, science and the mobility sector will discuss the ways to achieve the Paris agreements, without putting society to a full stop. The themes in the debate are passenger transport and Heavy Duty. In two parts we look ahead to the discussion. Today: Jan Wouters on the challenges of passenger transport.

All major car brands are working towards electrification of the powertrains of their newest models. Both environmental directives and the rapid fall in battery prices are the reason for this. But is it going fast enough? And will full-electric win the battle, or will the hydrogen fuel cell take care of it? Or will there be a new hybrid version in combination with a more sustainable fuel?

Jan Wouters, who in his professional work focuses on both the future and the past of the automotive sector and thus has a keen eye for the trends that really matter, warns that an answer to these questions is mainly to be found across the border. “We often hear that e-driving is the future because traditional fuels are becoming more expensive and batteries will only get cheaper. But we don’t live on an island. Geopolitical developments can simply lead to scarcity and price increases, and then another direction can suddenly become much more feasible.”

This is one of the reasons why it is good to get exactly those people around the table, when debating the future of passenger transport, who can also make these kinds of considerations, says Wouters. “We, therefore, want to conduct the debate with experts who are able to think in a scientific way, but who are also prepared to fight each other with arguments. With Jaap Tuinstra from PON, we ensure that the existing solutions can be heard as well. We will certainly also be talking about liquid gas because by using that, it would be relatively easy to directly reduce CO2 emissions by 20%. We would also like to invite an EV-adept and a party that thinks of alternative directions.”

Wouters immediately thinks of Toyota, where, as is the case with many other Asian brands, huge investments are being made in the fuel cell. “It doesn’t seem to work here yet, but it certainly does in Asia. So it could just happen that we will still see a breakthrough. Take a look at their Prius plug-in hybrid, with a small 10 Kwh battery for short distances, which is more than enough for most days. By the way, that could be an interesting proposition: ‘ten times a Toyota Prius has the same battery capacity as one Tesla, but it covers a lot more kilometres’!”

In addition, Wouters thinks that TNO’s contribution to the debate is interesting because of their independent research and advisory role, and their view of the government’s long-term programmes. “So if one of the parties involved calls for a certain development to be slower or faster, we have TNO to indicate the different technical and policy options to be able to achieve ‘Paris’.”

According to Wouters, the exciting thing is in the many uncertainties. “And there is a lot of doom and gloom. So often, we’re just shouting out our of fear of the future. What if the electricity grid can’t handle it? Where is my charging station when I live on the fourth floor of an apartment building? Where and how are these batteries actually made…? And then there are the incidents that unfortunately are part of a transition period like this and are being magnified to ‘prove’ that someone is right. But we have to get over these bumps. You can be resistant to innovation, but it’s better to take the initiative: after all, we make the future ourselves.”

Look here at the participants in this part of the debate. Tickets are still available: registration can be done here.

Best read: only a German-Flemish-Dutch megacity can take on the competition

Asphalt, roads, rocks, buildings – that’s how Cees Jan Pen describes Veldhoven, ASML’s home base. As an economic geographer, Pen is an independent member of the SER in the province of North Brabant and is a member of various national committees for advice on regional development. Pen is voicing his concerns about the state of Veldhoven’s city centre. In last week’s best-read article, he describes how the municipality desperately needs a vibrant heart. Not only for the native Veldhovener, but also for the expat from Taiwan.

The town needs to be revamped. A lot of catching up must be done when it comes to urban development. But isn’t Pen thinking in too narrow a way? After all, Veldhoven is part of Brainport Eindhoven, a region with 21 municipalities and about one million residents. Surely this urban area cannot compete with London (almost 9 million residents) in terms of facilities and environment?

No, says also Peter Savelberg, creator of the TristateCity model. This model merges the Netherlands, the Flemish part of Belgium and the Ruhr area in Germany into one large metropolitan region. “Over the past twenty years, people have increasingly moved to large cities as a part of urbanization. This has resulted in a vast urban agglomeration where between 15 and 30 million people live. There are around sixty of these ‘megacities’ in the world. All these cities or metropolitan areas are competing for talent and investment.”

Connecting regions

Dutch cities, which have an average population of 150,000, are far too small to engage in this struggle, according to Savelberg. “In an area like Shanghai or Mumbai where some 20 to 25 million people live, the competition between Eindhoven and Amsterdam is irrelevant. I think we should move away from competition between cities and bring together all the various strengths of the different regions. Now you see separate municipal groups travelling around the world. They are all proclaiming that they are European hotspots. A Metropolitan region of Amsterdam (which includes 32 municipalities), a cooperation between Arnhem and Nijmegen (which includes 16 peripheral municipalities, ed.), the Brainport region – and so many others can now be found. It is not my intention to upset people with this, as I know it is a sensitive issue.”

Stronger together

But still Savelberg thinks it’s a shame that regions want to widen their markets on their own. “You are much stronger together. If you start out flanked by Flanders and North Rhine-Westphalia, you can count on an area with 35 million residents. There is a lot of prosperity and wealth in this area and a in particular, a lot of knowledge. People are highly educated, and the area has 8 universities in the world’s best 100. If you look at it this way, you are in the world’s top 10 in terms of megacities.”

The only thing is how do you do that, connect regions? Should everything have to be overhauled according to the Chinese metropolitan model? “Absolutely not, the Dutch, Belgians and Germans really do not want to want to live in 100-storey skyscrapers. We are used to space, a private garden, a good barbecue and things like that. Whereas in China they do almost everything by public transport, the Dutch hop on their bicycles. But the Germans and Belgians are also doing that in growing numbers. This is not only good for sustainability, but great for everyone’s well-being too. This is only set to increase with the growth of the electric bike,” says Savelberg.

Letting go of city limits

And how is that connectedness? The good road network and the many reciprocal commerce in the area serve this purpose. Savelberg: “Despite cultural differences or language barriers, the Dutch, Belgians and Germans have managed to find a way to reach out to each other for decades. These collaborations could be stimulated even more. Universities cooperate on European projects, but it would be good if this could be done in a more structured way.”

Savelberg sees there is still too much thought being given to city centres: “Plenty of research is being done in the field of health In Maastricht. This also applies to Utrecht, where it is referred to as ‘living health’ and Groningen as ‘ageing health’. Then I would say: look at what you can do as a network for healthcare. Let go of those city limits.”

Investing in railways

That doesn’t mean we’re there yet. Even though the road network is in good shape, the railways could still use a major upgrade. Also, there aren’t as many trains between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany as you would like for such a ‘cosmopolis’. Savelberg: “Prorail has estimated that it is possible to run many more trains one after the other. In order to make this happen, we need to invest in a more effective safety system. As well as more high-speed lines are needed to improve connections between areas.”

Savelberg: “We are facing major changes; rapid technical development, the rise of data, robotization and so on. It changes the economic order and changes companies that we are currently familiar with. Perhaps in a few years’ time, the manufacturing companies as we know them today will have changed into data companies. Who knows? We want to keep looking ahead, take the next steps towards growth. The network that you assemble around you plays an important role in this.”

 

Tomorrow is good: Is Germany lagging behind or clearly steering ahead?

By using a few clichés about Germany, I tried to explain in my very first column for IO that Germany could do so much better if it took a look in a more practical and creative way at how innovations are taken advantage of and at government intervention. This view has been bolstered by my own experiences and the countless moaning Germans around me. There is an enormous need for more momentum. And above all, for speedier government action where social innovation is concerned. The Dutch could certainly lend a helping hand with that.

My next column should have been about how the Dutch sometimes rush into things, act too often like merchants and can perhaps learn something from German solidity and desire for structure. It is very illuminating to work with Germans when it has to do with guaranteeing quality through structure and process. Then that’s it, as far as comparisons are concerned. Or so I thought.

But this was soon followed by a splendid response from Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet to my intentionally provocative stance in my introductory column. She now thinks I’m a bit of a know-it-all. I would like to respond to that in a somewhat provocative way yet again.

Classic German defense

Actually there are many things we agree on and Christiane is very good at describing what can be improved in Germany. In my first column, I touched on a number of things that I think Christiane generally acknowledges as well. But she also tends to go on the defensive. Which kind of confirms what I often see happening in Germany.

Let me start by saying that, as a resident of the German capital and a regular traveler in Germany, I am very familiar with the classic German defense.

  1. What can be done in your country in the Netherlands (or Denmark or Sweden) is out of the question here. We are so huge, we have states as big as the Netherlands – and mega-suburbs. That’s why it works differently (as in slower etc).
  2. Yet it’s not going badly at all, because we are basically an export success story export thanks to the quality of our products.

However, I am convinced that the first of these points is not true. Germany can really move faster and the government needs to be more agile and is quite capable of learning from other countries. I understand the second point and it rings true. But it does not detract from the first point. Society is not benefiting enough from the innovations that go overseas if Germany itself is still just now starting to slowly digitize. All in part due to an unwieldy government.

Hipsters in Kreuzberg

Christiane also mentions the Dutch D66 leader who recently presented Berlin as a shining example for the Netherlands. I have to admit that I didn’t know what I was seeing when I read that sentiment. (I actually burst out laughing). Previously, liberals always looked to NYC – and all of a sudden it’s now Berlin? The Berlin that I think I know quite well, that I love. But would not consider a shining example for a successful model.

I know plenty of Dutch people who base their image of the German capital on their perceptions of Mitte and Prenzlauerberg. However, you would expect that a liberal leader of a Dutch governing party would do a bit more research. A bunch of start-ups and a few hipsters in Mitte and Kreuzberg don’t necessarily turn Berlin into an innovative and open city. Berlin is much more than just the hip “core.” It is paradoxical and oftentimes very conservative. Munich is much more of a D66 city (- but that comparison should be made in another column ; ).

Go Germany!

For the record, I do feel positive about Germany. In the face of an impending crisis and with a budget surplus, a lot can be done. Moreover, Germany will really start shifting over the next few years. This will benefit innovation, even in cities and general society. At long last we are seeing some signs of change. For example, where electromobility is concerned.

The latest news this week is that Germany has turned a corner and is now fully committed to electromobility. After years of holding back, a master plan for electromobility is on its way. And 3.3 billion euros will be invested between now and 2023 (also some investment in hydrogen). There is talk of one million charging stations. 10 million electric cars should be driving on German streets by 2030. Volkswagen is going fully electric. They’ve started producing the ID.3, an affordable e-car for the masses. BMW is installing 4100 stations, although mainly for its own employees. Doesn’t this so-called German inertia eventually steer the country in a direction that ultimately leads to a competitive edge?

Risk of deferral

In the coming years, considerable investments will also be made in bicycles: transport minister Scheuer has promised an extra €900 million. Numerous cities are planning upgrades to their urban infrastructure. Yet the risk of deferral is always looming in Germany. Or as Raoul Schmidt-Lamontain, a governmental policy-maker from Dresden, recently said: “In the meantime, money has been made available for trams and cycle lanes from new subsidy programs. But if, for example, I want to convert an intersection into a bicycle-friendly one or extend a bridge for pedestrians, then I also have to invest in the roads at the same time. So, I always need money from several subsidy sources all at once. If one stimulus program fails, investments in the other areas can’t be carried out either. And that money will stay put.”

So, no jumping for joy quite yet. Let’s see the results first!

Incidentally, Christiane is right and we were in agreement on this too – collaboration is worthwhile as (international) solutions can be found together … but sometimes by looking in the mirror as well.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

Autonomous cars: Overtaking is only possible with a human driver at the wheel

So far, autonomous cars are only dreams of the future. Scientists around the world are working flat out to find out how a car can navigate everyday traffic without human intervention. Automated vehicles must not only be able to navigate correctly and recognize obstacles, but must also assert themselves over human drivers. For example, they need to be able to overtake slower vehicles (IO has previously reported on this).

However, not just fully autonomous cars have to overcome this hurdle, but also the highly automated cars that are currently already on the road. Overtaking maneuvers on two-lane country roads pose a problem in particular for built-in technology. That’s because the vehicles out in front interfere with the sensors. In order to solve this problem, scientists at the University of Ulm in Germany have now devised a system that is able to perfectly divide tasks that overtaking entails between humans and the system.

More articles on the subject of autonomous driving can be found here.

Blind Sensors

Passing a vehicle on two-lane roads is often not easy even for a human being behind the wheel. Especially if you have to assess whether it is safe to overtake a vehicle on the other side of the road. Or if the vehicle in front of you is a truck and is blocking your view. The sensors of an autonomous or highly automated car are already disrupted by a normal passenger car. So, if bends, uphill or downhill slopes are added, it becomes even more difficult for the computer system to get an overview of the situation.

“People know that overtaking in such situations is highly risky,” explains Marcel Walch, principal author of the winning Best Paper Award publication. Together with computer scientist and university president Professor Michael Weber, and psychologists from Ulm University, the doctoral student from the Institute of Media Informatics has designed a cooperative system that combines the respective strengths of the driver and vehicle.

© Marcel Walch

While people are better able to grasp a traffic situation in spatial terms and assess the associated dangers more ‘realistically’, the technology is impressive as far as road handing and maneuverability is concerned, explains Walch. It is therefore only logical to combine the strengths of humans and technology when it comes to overtaking actions. Otherwise, the vehicle would have to drive even further behind the slower vehicle that is in front. Or else the driver would have to overtake ” manually. ” In other words, the human driver has to make the decision to overtake, but the maneuver itself is carried out by the vehicle. For this transition a “handover” is necessary, which enables a switch from automatic to manual operation.

When the other lane is clear, people assume that the automation system will initiate an overtaking maneuver. Professor Martin Baumann, head of the Human Factors Department (who is participating in this research project along with two doctoral students) emphasized that trust in technology can be compromised and its acceptance adversely affected if people experience automated behavior as inappropriate. However, if the technology indicates that it is not overtaking because its line of vision is limited, the human driver knows that they should intervene. They can tell the technology that the oncoming lane is clear. This way, humans can better “understand” the technology and provide adequate support, say the researchers. Driver and automation work together perfectly then.

Preliminary tests successfully completed

This cooperative system for overtaking was tested in a state-of-the-art driving simulator at the Institute for Human Factors. A large display has been integrated into the simulator’s cockpit which enables the driver and vehicle to interact. The terrain and the travel route on a two-lane country road were projected onto three large screens. The speed was around 100 km/h in the simulation and the vehicle was required to overtake slower-moving cars which were driving on a varying route at around 70 km/h.

During the simulation, the human drivers had to handle certain test tasks which were designed to distract them to a greater or lesser extent. Since the vehicle was programmed to drive close behind the slower car in front so that “visibility” was restricted both for the driver and for the vehicle’s sensors, “dicey” situations often occurred. As intended and as often happens in real life. Then the overtaking process was either stopped automatically or could be stopped by the human driver.

© Marcel Walch

Press the button to overtake

Researchers have also explored what a viable interactive system could look like that would allow the driver to initiate overtaking. And – in case of oncoming traffic – stop it safely and on time. They examined two different intervention techniques: The “CLICK” and the “HOLD” procedure. With the “CLICK” method, the simulation participants had to press an “Allow overtaking” button on a display to overtake. This then became the “Cancel overtaking” button. This means that the overtaking process is aborted if the driver touches that button a second time. With the “HOLD” variant, the driver must keep the overtaking button pressed down until the change to the other lane has been completed. In the end, a lot of testers stated that they considered the “HOLD” technology to be safer. This was because the overtaking process could be stopped more quickly in the event of danger. Yet they also considered the “CLICK” variant to be more practical and user-friendly.

When the study was completed, it became clear that many test drivers preferred a cooperative approach to overtaking rather than just a manual one. At the same time, however, it was also clear that people are not always able to cope with complex situations. Especially when they are very distracted.  People often forgot to look in the rear-view mirror when an overtaking maneuver was initiated. The researchers therefore recommend that the vehicle should remind people to look in the rear-view mirror. And, if necessary, warn them of upcoming rear traffic by using sensor data in order to prevent potentially dangerous situations.

Cooperative driver-vehicle interaction

The project is part of the KoFFI joint project on cooperative driver-vehicle interaction. Which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The project was presented at the Automotive UI 2019 in Utrecht and awarded a prize there in autumn this year. This is the leading trade fair for automotive user interfaces.

A similar project has also been carried out at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), where the PAKoS project will be presented at a driving demonstration on the 15th of November. It is also concerned with a smooth interaction between humans and technology and a problem-free situation-based handover to the human driver. Examples of these types of situations are construction sites. Places where there are speed limits and no clear lanes for the system, or non-mapped private areas.

The wind tunnel proves it, says Lightyear: this car is the most aerodynamic in the world.

The Lightyear One, the solar car built in Helmond of which the first prototype was unveiled in June, will, according to the engineers of the young company, be more aerodynamic than any other car in the world. This was demonstrated in recent wind tunnel tests carried out at the Eindhoven University of Technology. There, an air resistance coefficient of less than 0.20 was measured, which they consider being a first. The Lightyear people keep the exact data a secret for another while: this will only be announced after the car has been fully developed.

“Lightyear One is more than a car which a solar panel is attached to”, says the company in a blog post about the wind tunnel tests. “It is special because of its efficiency-driven design, which allows it to get the most out of every ray of sunlight. Whether it be about aerodynamics, efficient energy or material use, Lightyear One is built to perform.”

In order to achieve the highest possible range, most electric car manufacturers work with the largest possible battery capacity. Lightyear chose another solution, partly because of the extra weight of these batteries: solar panels combined with aerodynamics and the highest possible efficiency. As a result, Lightyear One should be able to achieve up to 60 km of extra range per day, not only thanks to the efficiency of the 5 square meters of solar cells but also because of a design optimized for minimal energy consumption, the company says.

The elongated shape of the car was initially designed to accommodate as many solar cells as possible, but now it is also helping to streamline the design of the car. Next to the solutions already known from other cars, such as wheel arches and the replacement of side mirrors by side cameras, the length of the vehicle also helps with this. In addition, using light composite materials and a smaller battery, Lightyear One drastically reduces weight and was able to enter a ‘lightweight cycle’: by making one part of the car lighter and more efficient, other parts can also become lighter.

Another helpful feature is the choice of four light in-wheel engines to replace the central engine, making the transmission of energy more efficient.

Based on all these differences, Lightyear claims to be up to twice as efficient as ordinary electric cars, allowing longer distances to be covered without recharging in between.