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Autonomous Street Sweepers, aka Roomba for Public Works

I recently attended a Nashville WalknBike outreach event where the city presented their proposal for bike and sidewalk infrastructure development to meet the needs of our rapidly growing population. One of the key takeaways from the meeting is that there is a need for effective, inexpensive street cleaning.

The “state of the art” in street cleaning today for bike lanes are smaller and narrower versions of existing street cleaning vehicles. These vehicles typically cost in the $100-200k range and require one or two human operators. PeopleForBikes has done an excellent survey of the options available for public works departments. Some cities, such as Los Angeles, are testing smaller vehicles (Advance SW8000) which may be a better fit for tight bike lanes.

Sidewalks and bike lanes are an obvious and excellent application for autonomous, electric sweepers. Moving away from a human-crewed cabin vehicle gives you a long list of advantages:

  • increased bin size: no need for a human operator, cab, HVAC; the majority of the vehicle volume and cargo payload can be devoted to the debris bin
  • decreased vehicle size: no crew requirements removes need for vehicle to be car-sized
  • improved flexibility: a larger fleet of smaller vehicles can potentially service streets, bikeways, sidewalks, alleys that a conventional crewed vehicle would not be able to access
  • lower road damage: road impact typically rises exponentially with the weight of the vehicle, especially true for sidewalks and bike lanes that may not be suitable for heavy vehicles
  • more frequent schedule: no need for a human operator => more frequent cleaning cycles or more coverage per vehicle
  • data collection: more frequently serviced routes with sensor-laden robots allows for lots of data to be collected about surface condition: litter frequency, damaged bollards pylons and other road wear, vehicle debris or vehicles parked in the lane, etc
  • cost of operations: cost of operations drops by an order of magnitude given reduced salary requirements, less expensive “fuel”, lower maintenance requirements
  • decreased operation obtrusiveness: decreased vehicle noise means less annoyance to those nearby, may extend acceptable hours of operation
  • fixed routes: predictable routes are perfectly suited for sizing battery capacity to application requirements

Surprisingly a brief search does not turn up any existing commercial offerings of autonomous street sweepers. Design concepts exist – like the Scarab concept by Olga Kalugina – but so far remain thought exercises only.

It’s also worth noting that new capabilities do not necessarily eliminate jobs, but could be viewed as a force multiplier for existing service personnel. Depending on application, if the vehicles are not road-worthy it may make sense for humans to transport and deploy these bots during their cleaning cycle, allowing for more specialized bots without high-speed operations requirements. Additionally, some areas will simply be a better serviced by humans and existing sweeper equipment than by autonomous sweepers – the target is the majority of the street cleaning need that can be serviced by autonomous sweepers today, instead of more general-purpose and significantly more complicated cleaning robot.

2016 Victory Empulse TT

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After Brammo investor Polaris acquired the struggling company, they were pretty quick to split the business into two units: a powertrain developer and the Empulse manufacturing unit, which moved to Polaris manufacturing HQ in Iowa.

Shortly afterwards rumors began to trickle out about an electric product from Polaris under the Victory brand. Brammo under the Victory banner raced the TT Zero at Isle of Man and did quite well for a first TT Zero appearance, turning in a 111 mph average lap. And now we see the final piece: Victory has just launched the Empulse TT as the first 100+ mile production electric from an established manufacturer.

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Harley-Davidson Project LiveWire

Harley-Davidson dropped a small bomb on the world Wednesday: they have an electric bike in the works. Not a dirt or minibike like KTM or Yamaha, not a scooter like BMW or Honda. A no-bullshit full size motorcycle, like Brammo and Zero have been building for a few years. Welcome to the party.

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DC Quick Charging and the Grid

Tesla planned Supercharger network in 2015

When production EVs were first introduced in 2008-2012, the primary concern was limited range. Low-power AC charging was fine for local travel, but typically inadequate for trips exceeding one or two hundred miles in length.

Rapidly-expanding DC quick-charging networks are beginning to mitigate range concerns along selected travel corridors. CHAdeMO, J1772 DC, and Tesla’s Supercharger offer charge rates between 50-135 kW, typically providing an 80% charge within 30 minutes.

However, what happens to the grid when hundreds or thousands of DC quick chargers come online, and EV fleets increase by one or two orders of magnitude?

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Decentralized Battery Grid Storage and the $13k EV

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Photo courtesy InsideEVs

S&C Electric Co in the UK has just announced the country’s largest battery grid storage project for storing renewable energy in the grid. The UK has huge amounts of offshore and onshore wind energy; grid energy storage accommodates mismatches between grid power supply and demand.

The grid battery can store 10 MWh of energy, with provisions to expand up to 18 MWh. Storage batteries are typically discharged at relatively slow rates; the battery can supply up to 6 MW to the grid. The project is claimed to cost 18.7 million pounds, or $28M ($4.7/W).

Now let’s compare the decentralized approach – EV grid storage.

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Gridding up for 2013 eRoadRacing Laguna Seca

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Laguna Seca has effectively been the premier electric motorcycle grand prix since TTXGP started the North America races in 2010. The entrant list for 2013 is both larger and smaller than it has been in past years.

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VW XL1 claims a record 71% diesel thermal efficiency

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photo courtesy Wired

That’s the implication from Wired’s recent XL1 drive report.

Because once you’re there [60 mph], it takes a scant 8.3 horsepower to maintain that speed — one-third that of a Jetta — and you can cruise along there all day while getting the equivalent of 261 mpg.

Let’s put on our math hat and work out the numbers.

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