‘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.”

Tomorrow is good: from a C- for maths to driving a Lightyear to Palo Alto and back

At the end of high school I had to choose what and where I wanted to study. I had an answer to the question ‘where,’ but the ‘what’ was a bit more difficult to answer. In the end, I chose the bachelor’s degree in Technical Innovation Sciences in Eindhoven. In other words, at the Technical University of Eindhoven. I did have some misgivings, as I didn’t really have the best qualifications to do a technical study (I got a 5 for math on my final exams, after all). But I had enough motivation to give it a try.

I wanted to do something about the energy problem. Yet in my first year I was worried that I wouldn’t manage to make it through to the energy subjects in my studies. These were courses at the faculties of Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, which put me off a bit.

Unconscious progression

After a year of studying architecture, I realized that it didn’t excite me at all and in the end I did decide to go down the energy route. Despite the few doubts I still had. Nevertheless, I did eventually finish it off properly after a few delays here and there due to my sideline activities. Thanks to all that, I became more and more enthusiastic about delving more deeply into the subject. That’s why I made the switch to a Master of Electrical Engineering. That seemed a very logical decision at the time … It was only when I remembered the doubts I first had when I started studying, that I realized that I had unconsciously progressed to a level that I had never expected to reach.

The last year of the Master’s program coincided with a year on the Blue Jay student team. In retrospect, that was a tremendously formative year.

Do the impossible

When we started out, autonomous indoor drones had never been built at the university before. The first step was to ask a lot of people for advice. At the end of the year, I learned from a number of people who had helped back then that they had never really expected it to work in practice. And deep inside I often had that feeling too. You just don’t see it happening in the near future. It taught me that you can really do the impossible if you get a bunch of motivated and talented people behind the same goal.

I have that same feeling of amazement and insight when I look back at my time with Lightyear. I am typing this blog on the back seat of Lightyear One, which is parked outside the entrance of the Monaco Yacht Club. Less than half a year ago, despite all the 3D models, simulations and rendering, I couldn’t even imagine that there would ever be an actual car to sit in.

The author with Lightyear CEO Lex Hoefsloot and Marc Tarpenning (right), one of the two founders of Tesla, whom we met 2 years ago in San Francisco.

Back to Palo Alto

If what you are telling us is true, then that is spectacular. But we just don’t believe you can make a nice looking, comfortable car so efficient“. Those were the words of a major U.S. venture capitalist when we were there in discussions two years ago. After the meeting Arjo, Lex and I promised each other that, as soon as the Lightyear One was up and running, we would go back to Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto. And that is exactly what we will be doing at the end of October.

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 en 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.

 

Five memorable YouTube channels about mobility

Together with energy, mobility may well be the source of human development. Added to this is the fact that the development of this has taken a very interesting and dynamic route: what is the future of aviation? Can public transport solve the congestion problem? And how exactly do we design our cities in a sustainable and appealing way?

There are also plenty of interesting YouTube channels on these topics that offer a wealth of information on a wide range of subjects. Train drivers, airplane spotters, urban planners, car enthusiasts and anyone interested in tomorrow’s world will find these five mobility channels an excellent way to get on board.

Fully Charged

There are, after all, enough television programs and car magazines, but British channel is all about electric vehicles. And this doesn’t just stop with cars; bicycles, skateboards and infrastructure also pass by.

The presentation is in the hands of the British broadcasters Robert Llewellyn and Jonny Smith, two established names who have years of experience and a smooth presenting style along with the necessary lightheartedness and humor. Videos offer previews, reviews and deal with more than just cars. In addition, sustainable energy and developments in the area of batteries in particular are explained in plain language.

City Beautiful

The impassioned American Dave Amos is an urban planner who likes to look ahead and think in big terms. Usually we don’t really think about it, yet the layout of our cities has an incredible influence on how a society functions.

Amos explains on his City Beautiful channel how to create a beautiful shopping mall or safe residential area, how the laying of asphalt can both make and break a city, and what role public transport can play in all of this. Not only the infrastructure itself, but also the consequences for the residents, are all discussed in detail. Were you formerly a big fan of the Simcity simulation game, or are you playing Cities right now? Skylines? Then this is an excellent channel for you.

Wendover Productions

Wendover Productions is all about everything on land, at sea, in the air and in space. So this British channel is especially enjoyable for viewers who love the whole expanse. British creator Sam mixes this with some lessons on logistics, macroeconomics, social geography and history. These are all ingredients which will help you better understand the world of today and the future, and all this in an appealingly motion graphics presentations which are each 10 to 15 minutes long.

How is a research center in Antarctica supplied? What does climate change mean for shipping routes and flight paths? And why can China build high-speed railway lines so quickly and efficiently while a simple metro in the Netherlands takes decades?

Tesla

When you think of innovation in the field of mobility, for many people the name Tesla soon comes to mind. Also in the field of marketing and video – they have everything under control. Of course, this channel is mainly an advertising platform where they present their own vehicles, solar cells and batteries in as good a light as possible.

Elon Musk’s company has a faithful fan base who at any given time do not want to miss out on a single update. What are the latest developments in the field of AI drivers and how do they ensure that dogs left in the car do not die from the heat during hot summer months? Tesla demonstrates this and much more in an apt way with videos that usually last less than two minutes.

CPG Grey

CPG Grey explains things as only he can; this YouTube channel has been the source of inspiration for many educational filmmakers. CPG Grey’s videos could actually fit into any compilation because he is so versatile.

Nevertheless, this Brit is also keenly interested in infrastructure and traffic. Things that at first glance seem simple or self-evident are often not that at all. And this is exactly what he wants you to know. The filmmaker really makes sure you will not get lost in this tidal wave of trivial facts. How do you solve the congestion problem? What is the most efficient way for passengers to take a seat on an airplane? He has a comprehensive answer to this and to many more questions that you didn’t even know you had.

CPG Grey has been active since 2011 and also tackles issues such as state affairs, AI, Brexit and geography.

Would you like more interesting YouTube channels to binge on? That’s not a problem. Innovation Origins previously wrote two similar posts: we first started with technological innovations, and last week the five best channels for start-ups and entrepreneurs had their turn.

Tomorrow is Good: Making sustainable energy beautiful and desirable

We are the generation that switches from fossil energy to sustainable energy coming from sun, wind and various smaller energy sources. Technically a wonderful story, because for more than a billion years we can harvest hundreds of times more energy without upsetting our ecosystem, and soon it will be even cheaper as well. But because we need a much larger surface area for renewable energy than for fossil energy, renewable energy stands out much more. That’s why we have to think about how we can make renewable energy beautiful. Even more to the pointpeople shouldn’t see sustainability as something that is forced upon us but as something beneficial. In my opinion, the technicians and administrators who are currently setting the tone in sustainability are completely unaware of this. In this column, I would like to make a few crosses to start the discussion and to show that it can be done in a much nicer and more pleasant way.

Successful example: the electric car

A good example of sustainability that has been made beautiful and desirable is found in electric cars. When I started to make a case for that, the Think City was the state of the art, but although it was a very sustainable city car, few people thought it was beautiful or desirable. Then came the Tesla Roadster sports car and it became a completely different story. With the Tesla Model S and X the electric car grew up and Tesla showed that four-wheel drive and acceleration that a fossil sports car can’t match are relatively easy to achieve. And now there is hard felt jealousy towards people who drive such a beautiful and desirable electric car. Maybe in the future, it will even be a status symbol to have a car that charges itself with solar cells – like the Lightyear. Of course, the price of electric cars will be lower than that of fossil cars within a few years, but what Tesla understands well is that sustainability and cheapness are not enough to trigger mass sales quickly. If you want to achieve that, you have to make your products beautiful and desirable.

At the moment I am building a new house and it strikes me how traditional the building industry still is. My house uses a timber frame construction. Isovlas insulation has superior heat and moisture regulating properties and is pleasant to work with. Western red cedar cladding is beautiful to look at and does not need to be painted, which saves a lot of maintenance. Interior walls of wood can be painted or lacquered and you don’t need to plaster. I also think it’s cool that nature just makes that raw material for you with the help of sunlight and CO2. The more building material you use, the more CO2 you extract from the air. At first, I thought: that will be very expensive, but it’s actually cheaper – also because construction is faster – so why doesn’t everyone do that?

Tesla

Example near the tipping point: sustainable construction

My roof is 1 large solar panel (they produce 3 times as much as I need for my house and electric car) and because the panels are completely black (without edges) and almost completely lying together it looks beautifully tight. Why do architects still talk to people about old-fashioned and price-increasing roof tiles?

Windows used to be something that took a lot of energy but with good triple glazing you can keep in 10 times as much heat as with single glazing. You also keep out twice as much energy but in the meantime, good triple glazing is energy positive on balance. My architect and contractor pointed out to me that you can apply large glass plates with new sealants that will last for decades relatively cheaply. So I have a huge borderless window on the north (where I have my view) and a large skylight on the roof. It looks really cool and in the winter it gives me extra warmth. Why do I see so little of it?

I love silence. That’s why I’m fed up with the grids next to the windows that allow sound to pass through your thick glass without hindrance. Of course, I also like to be energy efficient. That’s why I’m surprised that so few heat exchangers are used in new houses. They can (if they are properly installed) almost silently keep the air in your rooms fresh and more than 90% of the heat stays in your house.

At first, I was told that a water heat pump (with a pipe in the ground) was very expensive. But if you calculate how much you can save over the lifetime of the house and if you look at how low the mortgage interest rate is at the moment, then it is certainly a money maker for new houses. In addition, you don’t have ugly radiators but a pleasantly heated floor and in the summer (when the solar panels are working overtime) you can cool down without the help of ugly, noisy and energy-consuming air conditioning. What’s not to like?

I tell that not only because I’m proud of my energy-positive house that saves me money, but mainly because I hope that architects and contractors in the construction industry wake up. All those houses with just a few solar panels to meet the weak standard testify to a complete lack of vision and indicate that the construction should be put under more pressure. Furthermore, sustainable building should not only be presented with soulless words such as ‘sensible’ and ‘responsible’ but above all as beautiful and desirable. As far as I’m concerned, the pace of innovation in construction can be increased by a factor of ten!

“Sustainable building should not only be presented with soulless words such as ‘sensible’ and ‘responsible’ but above all as beautiful and desirable”

Next step: a beautiful and desirable energy system

Now we are faced with a more difficult task: how do you make the rest of the energy system attractive and desirable? I know people who like modern windmills and solar parks, but that’s a minority. So what to do?

I recently worked with a number of landscape architects on a model and a report in which we make Brabant switch to 100% sustainable energy. What struck me was how little the small single windmills in villages contribute to the energy supply. If everyone in a village loves it, of course, just keep on building them, but why don’t we do it mainly at sea? At sea we have plenty of space and it is good for marine life that nestles on the foundations of the windmills. And those enormous windmills also fit in well with the enormous scale that you see at sea. We shouldn’t talk all the time about the costs of the windmills at sea, but rather about how wonderfully beautiful and impressive they are. We should be just as proud of those gigantic towers at sea as we are of the Delta Works and the Afsluitdijk!

As far as putting windmills on land is concerned, you should also think of the wind pilots of companies like Kitepower and Ampyx power. They replace the clumsy tower of a traditional windmill with an invisible rope. What you see is a kind of large bird that rotates large slow eights high in the air. That aesthetic aspect of airborne wind energy should be in my opinion front and centre in marketing but it is hardly ever mentioned. (I have written a research proposal in which a psychologist will finally investigate this, if the proposal is accepted.) Instead, they only talk about the fact that it is cheaper, that you can easily take it to inhospitable areas and that you don’t need a foundation for wind at sea. It’s a shame because that doesn’t make it beautiful and desirable. Go to Tesla for advice, I’d say!

For optimal use of solar power, we already talked about the fact that a building should be designed from the beginning with a 100% sunroof (and where possible a solar facade as well) in a way that shows how beautiful that can be. Because the housing stock lasts a long time, we have to start doing the same for existing buildings: don’t put a few panels on it, but think about how you can turn the entire roof surface into a nice solar panel. As long as you would want to build solar fields, you could also do it a lot better. You can make panels that move with the sun (a bit like sunflowers) and with a bit of creativity, you can combine it with agriculture. As far as I’m concerned, it’s more beautiful than corn growing three metres high. And don’t forget, solar panels are also possible at sea.

Making new mobility desirable

That brings me back to the car. Because although the electric car is already halving its CO2 emissions and could reduce them by a factor of ten in the future, the electric car in fact is just as old-fashioned as the long-playing record. Recently I started working with Geert Kloppenburg and Walter Dresscher on smart mobility in the city and I was shocked. It seems to me that the industry is almost exclusively concerned with raking in as many billions as possible for more asphalt and more rail. Good models that look at door-to-door traffic are hardly used. Introducing autonomous trains is relatively easy, but because the sector is so slow and the unions don’t like it, it will take another 20 years before we can send more trains on the existing track. The possibilities of a high-frequency bus (‘metro over asphalt’) are almost completely ignored. We are ignoring ways to encourage cycling and car-sharing. City design has hardly any vision of innovative transport. All in all, we’re putting a huge amount of money into solutions that we know won’t work, and we’ll continue to do so for the time being: completely unacceptable.

“We’re putting a huge amount of money into solutions that we know won’t work, and we’ll continue to do so for the time being: completely unacceptable.”

I think the core of the problem is that we don’t yet understand how much nicer and more desirable innovative transport can be. We should show how much more beautiful, spacious, green, quiet, healthy and safe the city will be if we do more cycling and car-sharing. We should present car-sharing (‘Spotify your car’) as more luxurious than your own car. Like: of course, you can buy your own long-playing records and always clean them well and play them with a lot of hassle, but streaming offers much more logic, isn’t it? Then you will always have the possibility to drive the ideal car for your trip within a few minutes, without the hump, costs and unpleasant neighbourhood that comes with your own car. There are cute and funny movies but I have yet to see the first slick movie in which that future is sold to us as beautiful and desirable.

All in all, I know from my profession that rapid sustainability is badly needed and that in the end, it will be much cheaper. But if we don’t manage to make it more beautiful and desirable, we will create unnecessary resistance and delays. This is unfortunate and unnecessary because I am convinced that the sustainable story can be presented as a global adventure that brings people together, that makes our world more beautiful and what we do not do because we have to – but because we want to.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Eveline van Zeeland, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Peter de Kock, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.

Tomorrow is Good: Perpetuum Mobile

lightyear

In a weekly column, alternately written by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will be like. The six columnists, occasionally supplemented by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that Tomorrow will be Good. This Sunday it’s Tessie Hartjes’ turn, about #realsolutions in electric transport. Here are all previous episodes.

This week, Lexus – part of Toyota – launched a campaign called “Diesel, thank you”. The message: it’s time for a new standard and Lexus saw the end of the diesel coming a long time ago. In the advertisement, the hybrid car is depicted as a car with which you can drive electrically “without a plug” and “without a restrictive radius of action”. This is because the battery is charged while braking.

It sounds like a kind of perpetual mobile; you drive, you brake, and tadaa… your battery is full again. Who does not want that? What is not explained, however, is that the braking energy that is recovered comes from the fuel engine, which started the car. No plug but also absolutely no electric car; you just remain dependent on the gas pump. If you ask me, the ad is greenwashing pur sang.

In addition, we at Lightyear were slightly outraged by Lexus’ claim that this technology marks ‘the start of a new era’. Toyota’s first hybrids date back to 1997, a year in which the advertisement would have been in place. Hybrids have made the step towards electric smaller and that has been enormously good for the acceptance of electric cars, of course, we recognise that. All hybrids together already have a commendable amount of electric kilometres, but in our view, it is and will remain just a temporary solution. That’s why, in response to this, we also placed an ad in the same week and called on the automotive industry to come up with #realsolutions.

Although with solar cars the debate is often about solar cells, most of the development at Lightyear focuses on making the electric car as energy efficient as possible. We announced this week that Lightyear One will have an air resistance coefficient lower than 0.20. With this it breaks the record of the most aerodynamic production car – the top ten values are now between 0.24 and 0.26.

Low energy consumption makes the solar cells much more effective; a large part of the annual kilometres can then be driven directly from to the sun. We see this as the solution for the future. At Lightyear, we are forced to start small and work on the edge of what is possible, which unfortunately means that this technology is not yet accessible to the masses. Making electric driving fully accessible is definitely our goal. Luckily we still have 21 years to reach the same point in time 😉

Just like hybrids, hydrogen-powered cars also appear to be a topic where the discussion is a little clouded. Although hydrogen can be an excellent green source of energy, it is only so when it is also made sustainable. Often this is not the case and it is produced from gas, and (sometimes) the CO2 is put underground. The latter is called ‘blue hydrogen’. If the hydrogen is produced purely from non-renewable sources, without CO2 storage, it is called grey hydrogen. The framing of blue, grey and green hydrogen is an understandable distinction but in my opinion, it also deserves the stamp ‘greenwashing’.

hydrogenWhen it comes to whether hydrogen cars are a better solution than electric cars, my answer is simply ‘no’. The biggest objection is that hydrogen cars use 2 to 3 times more energy per kilometre than current electric cars. Solar cars can even achieve a factor of 5 to 6 per kilometre. Even if only green hydrogen were to be introduced, this would mean that we would lose the opportunity for a sustainable growth of a factor of 5-6, knowing that demand for mobility would globally only be growing further. If you do use renewable energy to produce hydrogen, then you can just as easily store this energy directly in your car’s battery and then immediately drive on this again electrically, skipping a number of steps where a lot of energy is now being lost. Not to mention the fact that you have to build – or convert – a completely new infrastructure to enable hydrogen-powered driving.

We will all have to keep this earth livable – before it is too late. That is quite a challenge, and in that light, I find the greenwashing of a company with so much strength particularly regrettable. We’ve got no time to lose… It’s time for #realsolutions.