Quantum fluctuations in space, science, exploration and other cosmic fields... served up regularly by MSNBC.com science editor Alan Boyle since 2002.

Alan Boyle covers the physical sciences, anthropology, technological innovation and space science and exploration for MSNBC.com. He is a winner of the AAAS Science Journalism Award, the NASW Science-in-Society Award and other honors; a contributor to "A Field Guide for Science Writers"; and a member of the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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Auto X Prize revs up

Posted: Friday, March 30, 2007 7:49 PM by Alan Boyle

The multimillion-dollar Automotive X Prize is finally rolling up to the starting line after more than a year of tinkering. Draft rules for the competition, aimed at encouraging the development of “production-capable” cars that get the energy equivalent of 100 miles per gallon, will be unveiled next week at the New York Auto Show. The X Prize Foundation is targeting a race between the prize finalists in 2009.

The rules are due to come out during the auto show's press preview, which begins on Wednesday, and will be put out for a 60-day public comment period before they're set in stone, said Mark Goodstein, the executive director of the Automotive X Prize program.

"You only get one chance to release the final rules for a competition, and we want to make sure they are right when they are final," he told me on Thursday. "This is an attempt to reach out to folks worldwide who would like to compete ... or have done this kind of thing before and know about the hidden land mines."

Many of the details surrounding the rules are being held back until next week, but Goodstein said they won't lend themselves easily to a quick sound bite. "Fifty pages is nothing to sneeze at," he said.

Why do the rules have to be so complex? It's a tall order to create a contest that will truly reward breakthroughs in what's already one of America's biggest economic sectors.

The organizers don't want to rule out any technology that can produce more efficient cars, whether that's biofuels, hydrogen, plug-in power, solar or just a better breed of fossil-fuel power. For that reason, the basic metric is the energy equivalent of 100 miles per gallon of gasoline, or 100 mpge, in a combination of city and highway driving. Defining how that will be measured, particularly for alternate energy sources, can get tricky.

The vehicles have to be marketable as well - so the ability to create a "production-capable" (as opposed to "production-ready") car will be factored into the rules. If you have a brainstorm that involves driving mice around in a tinfoil-covered lifting body, or flying people around in dirigibles, you'll want to think again. Not that there's anything wrong with lifters or dirigibles, of course.

For months, Goodstein and his colleagues have been struggling over whether the goal of the X Prize should be to reduce emissions, or reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, or increase energy efficiency. Here's how he encapsulated the Automotive X Prize's purpose this week:

"This is a goal to inspire a new generation of super-efficient vehicles that will break our addiction to oil and stem the effects of planet change. That really is it. Those two goals have been the tent poles as we've done our thing. ...

"The industry is stuck, and it's not anybody's fault. That's just the dynamic. ... Everyone points their fingers behind closed doors. We need to introduce a bright spotlight in a different location and get everyone to rush over there."

Goodstein, a veteran of dot-com and e-commerce ventures, dared to use a chemistry metaphor - comparing the automotive industry to a supersaturated solution that's just waiting for a little push to churn out cool new stuff.

"One little thing can be put into it, and thkk!" he said.

Of course, the Automotive X Prize won't be just "one little thing." In the past, Goodstein has said the competition's purse might have to be even larger than the $10 million spaceflight X Prize that was won back in 2004. This week he said his team wasn't yet ready to announce how big the purse will be, other than to say it will involve a multimillion-dollar payout.

"The purse is not insubstantial for the smaller teams, but they're really doing this for the exposure," Goodstein said.

If the program develops the way Goodstein expects, that exposure would reach its height in 2009, when the X Prize Foundation would "stage races to test the work of these teams in a very high-profile way."

The Automotive X Prize is just one of the foundation's follow-ups to the original space prize - standing alongside the annual X Prize Cup, the $2 million Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, the $10 million Archon X Prize for genomics and other projects that are still percolating. But if the automotive contest lives up to Goodstein's hopes, it could be the foundation's biggest world-changer. What do you think? Feel free to leave your comments below, and watch for updates in MSNBC.com's automotive news section.


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Developing high performance homes and communities that allow us to work right from where we live should be where the real effort is! When we do need to travel out, something like the Mercedes A-class micro car (11.8ft long) would not only be efficient and safe but also very functional. It is a five-passenger hatchback where all four-passenger seats can either be folded or completely removed to form a completely flat cargo floor! Even as it is, it gets 52 mpg.
electric-powered vehicles are the future. either plug-in, generator-charged onboard(bio,fuelcell,etc) onboard to maintain the charge, for distance, a mag-rail highway system where you can link-up, program destination and sit back and enjoy the ride and get recharged as well! rail adaptor on underside of your vehicle links smoothly to the transportation rail system. local travel necessary? just disengage and rely on electric power for runs-around.
To those who ask why don't we do (fill in blank) instead of space, here's a filled blank for you. Someone *is* working on those other problems, too. Science and technology does walk and chew gum at the same time.
The preignitioncc is in the last stages of devleopment, expected to be available to the general public later this year. Preliminary tests indicate 4 times current mileage on current production cars. You might need to raise the 100mpg bar.
Development of affordable high mileage vehicles will not occur until essential technologies have been developed.

Economical high capacity batteries capable of being charged in a few minutes constitute the primary technology required. That technology is being developed by several companies. However it may be years before such batteries (Ultra Capacitors?) are commercially available.

The technology for high efficiency electric motors to drive such vehicles has been developed (NASA) and seems to be a maturing technology.

Other considerations include the teaching drivers that acceleration and braking is where most of the energy is lost. One might consider placing timers on stop signs/traffic lights that communicate time distance to the vehicle to a green/red light with the onboard capability to calculate the optimal speed to preclude stopping unnecessarily or "charging" the light.

Other considerations for long mileage travel would be an onboard motor/generator set to keep the battery charged. Let the electric motor do the accelerating and use a 20 to 30 HP engine motor to charge the battery. MIT has a concept that might be very useful. They propose injecting methanol into the combustion chamber to preclude knocking at high compression ratios (supposedly increasing efficiency by 30%).

The bottom line is that it is the associated technologies that need to be developed at this time vs. the end vehicle itself.

This Automotive X Prize is a very good idea as it will focus a many teams on these and alternative technologies. This is my opinion and like noses everyone has at least one.
The spaceship IS in the private sector now. all that is in the Government sector is the financing of these vehicles. 

   Thank you, taxpayers, for financing an engineer (plus wife and two kids) in the sixtys and seventies.

It was fun working at Rocketdyne and Mcdonnell Douglas
J T, That's an excellent point to bring up about traffic control systems that help make getting past red lights faster. I wish there were some kind of camera and software that could hookup to a red light to scan for cars (etc) and change the light accordingly. Too many of our red lights are backwards to the actual flow of traffic and a lot more can be done right there.
An X Prize is always a fine way to focus and improve on an issue, technological OR social. It is unfortunate that ZERO effort is going into reducing the consumption on the gazillion vehicles on the road right this second! Regardless of what you drive at the moment you can CHOOSE to spend $100 or $150 (or more) to cover a given distance; we all seem bent on pushing our car to its worst possible mpg... A $20 mpg gauge next to the speedo would change everything, doncha think?
I think the results of this x-prize will be disapointing. Gasoline is still too cheap to make a 100mpg vehicle marketable unless we don't have to give up anything else to achieve that.

Every year universities stage a solar car race, along with the cement canoe race. Those cars already do much better than 100mpg and they could be put into production if the age old problem of battery technology could be solved.  This whole x-prize business has gotten way over-blown. Just because it worked for the Pentagon in solving a problem that nobody else cared about doesn't mean that it will make any difference in solving a problem that thousands of people are already working on.
I have read reports of after market kits to enable hybrids to also accept plug-in charging. They claim that they can get 100-120 mpg that way. Is that bogus?
Andrew H. Please find some background information on Dennis Lee before touting PICC as viable. I only find scams in his past.
The technology is already here for 50/60 MPG without being a Hybrid Gas/Electric!
The Gear ratios are what we used to run at the drag strip 40 years ago in some cars. There needs to be a 70 MPG minimum set for on the highway at 65MPH. This can be done now for our cars, and I do not mean a Subcompact car or a Hybrid design. With Hybrids the on road mileage could be triple that, not counting in-city driving.
EV1? Havn't we already done this? Get the Gov't out of the way, and we might already be at 100+mpg.
Let the Automotive X Prize entice innovation of any sort to achieve goal of 100 mpge. But it also needs to be practical. There needs to be something about passenger capacity, length of travel without "refueling", top end performance, and retail price.

The biggest and least likely parameter to be included will be final retail price. If a car runs at 100 mpge but costs $50,000 it would not be "practical" enough to make a real difference. People are balking at the 20,000 price of a Toyota Prius. And that's for 50 mpge.

I am very interested to see if the Automotive X Prize rules have any parameters that deal with end user practicality. If not, I hope someone will think of the needs of the average American consumer and comment on the need for practicality.
Somebody pointed out where most of the energy is lost.

Braking and accelerating. Most of the fuel is spent dealing with emissions. Don't even want to get into the sulfur dioxide produced as a by product (is that harmful to the environment?) by the catalytic converters on most american cars.

There should be some way to convert the heat of braking and the mechanical side of it into useful energy.

IMO edison was correct when he told henry ford "the future is in electric".

Just gotta work out weight and storage issues.
I am astounded that so many people are so off base on this issue. The solution is not about what type of energy to use but how to recapture the energy expended so you have less total energy expenditure. Battery powered cars still burn energy and don't always recapture it. The only solution on the horizon that actually has great potential is the hydraulic hybrids and hydraulic launch assist under development but no one talks about them in the press. Everyone go out to Google and start looking at it for yourself.
I am always in a state of shock at what appears to be the shortsightedness of this type of endeavor.  Fossil fuels are finite, biofuels would compete with food for agricultural land use, and all other liquid fuels would routinely constitute an environmental or safety problem.  

I read with great delight the advances being seen in solar energy and electric vehicle development, yet we seek to give a prize to an automobile that will exceed 100 mpg.  I personally want a vehicle that doesn't use any environmentally damaging fuels.  I do not want to support the huge imbalance of trade that is the importation of foreign oil.  I do not want the U.S. to continually be involved in foreign intrigue based on our need to control the world's oil supply.

I believe in the genius of the world's scientists and engineers.  They only lack being presented with the proper motivation.  I watch with delight as forward thinkers, such as Tesla Motors, offer the world alternatives to the internal combustion engine mode of transportation. How I wish I could afford one of their beautiful sports cars.

I suggest that an X-prize should be offered for development of an automobile that wouldn't use any non-renewable or environmentally damaging fuel, or a battery system that would sustain a four passenger automobile at 70 mph for 8 hours. I, personally, cannot wait till the day that I have a working electric vehicle, using solar power to charge the long-life batteries that power it.
The future does look electric - electric motors are efficient, compact, reliable, and powerful. Lithium batteries are offering longer "per charge" driving ranges in compact form.

The problem with fast charging isn't batteries, it is the hefty power requirements for the connection. While "quick charging" would be nice, it is not essential - most drivers would be happy to start out each day after an overnight charge for 250 miles or more.  Also, automated interstate "guideways" could provide power "on the go" for longer trips, eliminating the problem of limited battery driving range.  

"Plug-in Hybrids" can indeed travel over 100 miles sipping a gallon of gas, as most of your average daily travel can be powered by electricity from the wall outlet, and electric motors are far more efficient (95%) than IC engines (15% to 30%). Electricity is much cheaper than gas, the equivalent of 70 cents a gallon. If you don't charge up, your fuel economy drops back to standard hybrid levels (still high). For the purposes of the Automotive X Prize, however, all fuel and energy sources used will be considered and counted towards mileage on a "gasoline energy equivalent" basis.

A 100 mpg car would not be of much use if it didn't sell, so "Marketability" is one of the factors being considered in the Automotive X Prize. They want the winners to be "production ready", or at least "produceable". It must meet all US safety requirements, and must have reasonably fast acceleration and top speeds. See details on their website.

I checked out "preignitioncc" aka "PICC", and found a website full of nonsensical bafflegab intended to deceive the gullible. The videos with their silly parlor tricks were mildly amusing, but the naive may be taken in. Suprised to find convicted scam artist  David Lee involved, apparently he ran short of suckers for his "free electric power" scam and decided to try something new.

"Hydraulic Hybrids" may have some use on costruction equipment, but hydraulic accumulators have very limited energy storage and poor energy efficiency when compared to electric hybrid batteries. Hydraulic accumulators compress air to store energy, which creates heat energy, some of which is inevitably lost.
I read and watch on TV all about the future cars. The technology is here and its out there. No one is going to get the lane sizes changed so why build skinny cars? putting rails up is future thinking too.I don't want to drive a 3 wheel car, I want something cool and gets me from A-Z. You will see my team at the finals. I am so Happy this challenge has been made.
One thing I never see in these discussions about fuel efficiency is associated engine power--and I don't mean merely giant earth destroying suburban assault vehicles. My family's criteria for our next car is one that is not only fuel efficient, but also able to pull a small trailer/camper for family vacations. A Cooper Mini is great, unless you need to pull... well, anything. Likewise, a Ford F250 is great to pull things, but not so great to for getting to and from work (unless you're made of money). Unless they can make super efficient cars that can also do something more spectacular that get up to highway speed, I'm going to have to reluctantly hold out for something still better.
bhenn -- regenerative braking and suspensions are just now getting developed to the point where they are usable with lots of computer help.   Before too long, going downhill for a few miles on a bumpy road will do wonders for an e-car's range.

the rest of you -- 100mpg is already possble for gasoline, diesel, hydrogen, LPG, and CNG cars -- the problem is that these engines would have to run so hot that the nitrogen in the air would be turned into unacceptable amounts of nitrous oxides (which cause acid rain AND cause greenhouse effects).  

The alternative to this is an e-car, which either needs a huge investment in solar and wind technologies OR will just move pollution from a diffused source problem to a point source problem.
Yes Dennis Lee has been thoroughly investigated by over 25 State Attorneys General over the past 20 years. He has Zero criminal convictions. He was imprisoned for one year without a trial. At trial he demonstrated the technology he was selling did indeed work. The judge dismissed the case. But by that time his business was ruined. The underlying charge? He filed a wrong business form, a civil offense.

Do the videos on preignitioncc.com look like parlor tricks? Yes, I agree. The videos show proof of concept. The finished product is nearly ready. The Wright brothers were flying 5 years before the public demonstatration at Kitty Hawk. The bi-plane in the photos looks like a parlor trick.

If someone wants to refer to Dennis Lee as "convicted" please cite the conviction. How many over a 20 year period? Was the conviction civil or criminal? Which product was the scam? All UCSofA products come with a 30 day satisfaction garauntee. The initial PICC price quote is free. Sales of the PICC are a way to raise working capitol, and raise public awareness. If there's one customer with a legitimate complaint, there are 50 Attorneys General who'd love to hear from you.

In 45 cities across the USA Dennis Lee has demonstrated the technologies to produce "free electricity". When UCSofA has signed up 1.6 million witnesses at zero cost to be a witness,(If there's no cost to register to be a witness, what's the scam?) the "free electricity generator" will be publicly demonstrated in 100 sites across the USA at the same time. The question is, does Dennis Lee deserve the chance to hold public demonstrations? His demonstrations in the past were ignored by the media. 1.6 million witnesses cannot be ignored.

"Free electricity" to end the need to burn fossil fuel to generate electricity is only a begining. Witnesses at the demonstrations will also see technologies to end the burning of fossil fuel and end the need for Nuclear Power.

Nonpoluting electric generation would then make electric cars nonpoluting.

Does the Tesla Electric car use electricity produced by a fossil fueled generator? How does one define scam?


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