Bike Built Entirely of Wood Could Set Speed Record

By Duncan Geere, Wired UK

A bicycle made entirely of wood, created by a pair of British designers, is aiming for a 31-mph speed record.

SplinterBike doesn’t have a single piece of metal, rubber or plastic. The axles are made of ekki. The frame, wheels and cogs are birch, and the bearings are ironwood. The pedals and handlebars have been refashioned from a broom handle.

Michael Thompson and James Tully say they were inspired to build SplinterBike after watching the Tour of Britain pass Thompson’s front garden. Tully bet him 1 pound [$1.65] he couldn’t build a bike entirely out of wood.

Tully lost the bet.

The drivetrain is the most impressive achievement. The traditional chain has been replaced with a pair of 128-tooth cogs that link the pedals to the rear wheel. It’s not the first all-wood bike, but it might be the fastest. Tully and Thompson want to set a speed record to find out.

There’s no existing record, so the pair have called in the Speed Record Club at a cost of 7,500 pounds [$12,500] to record the bike’s speed, which they believe should be able to get up to 31 mph, thanks to a 4:1 gear ratio. However, that’s theoretical because it hasn’t been ridden yet. Thompson and Tully don’t have access to a venue with a smooth-enough surface for the machine’s wooden wheels.

Thompson told the Guardian Bike Blog: “It should go the speed; it’s all down to James now. I’ve done my bit; there’s a lot of work that’s gone into it.”

Photo, video: SplinterBike

What Driving Games Can Teach You About Racing

By Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica

As a hardcore racing fan, the first racing game I really got into was a Super Nintendo F1 game. But it wasn’t until the release of Gran Turismo on the PSone that the game console could finally provide a virtual outlet for those with the desire, if not the cash, to go racing.

Since then, racing games have given us ever-more lifelike physics, graphics and artificial intelligence. We’ve even got the the chance to race online against other humans. Peripherals like real-feel steering wheels have gotten better; the best of them promise racing immersion from the comfort of our couches. It’s all been great fun for racing fans, but is any of it truly realistic? What do racing videogames teach you about racing real cars?

I got to answer this question with ChumpCar racing.

Before I go further, let me say I know there are PC racing sims with far more realistic physics models than console games. I’ve played a couple of hours of GTR, but nothing more. But I have played lots of GT and Forza Motorsport and other console racers. That’s the gaming experience I drew from as I tried doing it in real life.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Goes the Gavel

The eponymous car that starred in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is up for sale.

Though it won’t float on the water or fly if it’s driven off a cliff, this is the real, roadworthy deal, sold to a studio employee who has cared for it since filming ended. Now, it’s up for auction in May.

During filming, stunt doubles were used when the car was flying or sailing. Since then, several copies have been made for promotional events, but none bears the provenance of the so-called GEN 11 vehicle. Named for the license plate it features in both the film and the Ian Fleming story that it was based on, the car was sold to stunt driver Pierre Picton after the movie was released and has been in his possession ever since.

“The car comes with the original title dated 1967 with the owner as United Artists Corporation/Warfield Productions, Ltd., with ownership transferring to Pierre in early 1973,” said Brian Chanes of Profiles in History, the Hollywood memorabilia auction house that’s selling the car. “In addition, there is a letter dated March 3, 1972, on United Artists Corporation, Ltd., letterhead addressed to Pierre Picton discussing his acceptance of the price asked for the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car.”

Since then, Pierre registered the car in the United Kingdom — with a license plate reading “GEN 11″ — and lovingly cared for it. United Artists’ successor MGM flew the car to Hollywood in 2003 for the release of a special-edition DVD of the film, which also featured a virtual tour of the vehicle.

Designed by Ford’s racing team to resemble a prewar vehicle, Chitty was no mock-up. Though she stayed on land throughout filming, she moved under her own power whenever possible and has been driven regularly ever since. The vehicle was built on a ladder frame with a boat deck crafted out of red and white cedar, a polished aluminum hood, a dashboard from a British World War I fighter plane and actual exterior pieces from 1930s vehicles.

As a handcrafted car with an illustrious history, this piece of memorabilia won’t come cheap. The auction house has offered a presale estimate of between $1 and $2 million.

Photo: Profiles in History

The New Auto: Tech Is My Co-Pilot

Some of the most exciting innovations in consumer electronics aren’t happening in your living room or office. They’re happening in your car, and these advances go far beyond electric drivetrains. They include navigation, infotainment, driver assistance and other technologies with the potential to change how we drive and improve safety in every driving situation.

For the first time we’re making the internet mobile in an automobile: It no longer will be a problem to find and use vital information while traveling. The spectrum of mobility services will develop into intelligent and efficient solutions specifically designed for the expected growth in short-range travel in urban communities. Currently, electronics spearhead new development in cars. Ideas of electronics, lifestyle and automobiles are becoming ever more closely tied.

The Electronics Research Lab in Silicon Valley is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of mobility now and in the future. Designers, engineers and even psychologists work together within a worldwide network of research centers.

Good ideas and forward thinking is required if we are to conquer the many challenges of modern mobility, such as complex traffic patterns and increasing congestion, the growing need for safety, and increased efficiency. The solutions to these problems range from advanced instrumentation and intuitive user interfaces to artificial intelligence, energy-efficient vehicles and “social” vehicles that communicate with each other and with the road.

There is no limit to the innovation.

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Your One-Stop Shop For Pulse Jets

DIY daredevil Bob Maddox’s new website has gotten off the ground almost as fast as his homemade pulse jets.

You may remember Maddox from his jet-powered bicycles, jet-powered motorcycles and jet-powered skydiving attempts. Maddox is mad for pulse jets. We’d be surprised if the Maddox family kitchen didn’t have a jet-powered toaster and jet-powered coffeemaker.

Now, the self-taught stuntman has a website selling DIY plans for his pulse jets. Just the thing for would-be jet setters who prefer an engine that’s tried and true to one built by trial and error. We’re resisting the urge to go shopping.

“I just decided it’s time to get serious, I’ve never had a website even though I’m all over the web,” he said. “With this new website I’ll be sharing all my work with everyone by selling plans for all my engines and most projects, too.”

Maddox discovered the humble pulse jet while searching for a way to get more airtime while skydiving. The simple engine, which powered World War II “buzz bombs,” mixes air and fuel in a reed-like structure that requires no moving parts. Maddox planned to strap one on while skydiving but settled on bolting them to bicycles and other contraptions.

A few years back, Maddox gave up on his cabinetmaking gig to work full-time on pulse jets. He’s lived on commissions from fellow enthusiasts, building them for collectors and so forth. Maddox hopes the website will finance wilder projects.

“I won’t be building things for other people. I’ll be building bigger and better projects and promoting my website,” he said. One project is a wild racer he plans to run at Bonneville Salt Flats. will feature Maddox creations in various stages of development and construction.

“I will be posting weekly updates on the new projects; we will have customer support and memberships,” he said. “As you can see, I’m not going away!”

Photo: Bob Maddox with one of his pulse jets.

Superlight Electric Wolf Is an Apex Predator

Every electric racing motorcycle we’ve seen so far has suffered from one major problem: Physics.

They’re all perfectly capable of transforming electrons into motive power. And some, like Chip Yates’ 190.6-mph beast, are blindingly quick. But in their pursuit of powertrain innovation, the people building these machines have overlooked, if not forgotten, what’s made internal-combustion-engine motorcycles so successful: Less weight equals more performance.

Michael Uhlarik hasn’t forgotten that. He’s embraced it. The Amarok P1 that the Canadian motorcycle designer unveiled today weighs just 325 pounds. That’s firmly in Moto GP race bike territory and almost half what Yates’ 585-pound behemoth weighs.

That means the flyweight Amarok — Inuit for “wolf” — can do more with less. It needs a 7.5-kilowatt-hour battery to complete the 12 laps of a TTXGP race while its rivals need 12 kwh, or more. It also will be faster. The Amarok, like the Mavizen TTX02, uses a pair of Agni 95 electric motors. But the Mavizen weighs 375 pounds. Which one do you think will win a drag race?

The benefits of hauling less mass don’t end there though

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Post-Apocalyptic Blown Buick Shoots Fire

By Justin Hyde, Jalopnik

In typical New York fashion, the Dodge Charger from Fast Five got the high-attention spot on the main floor of the New York Auto Show to flaunt its matte-black paint and automatic transmission. The far cooler supercharged flame-throwing car had to park in the basement.

The Medusa was built by filmmaker-engineer Evan Glodell for his move Bellflower, an indie film that will be released in August. Described as a post-apocalyptic love story, the movie’s centerpiece is the junkyard transformation of a 1972 Buick Skylark into a fire-breathing tarmac terror.

Vince Grashaw, one of the film’s producers and actors, has been promoting the movie by driving Medusa to colleges around the country. What started as a $2,600 Skylark bought off Craigslist evolved as the producers added mods as they shot their independent movie, combining two of the most money-thirsty hobbies known to man.

The Skylark’s major modifications are the rear flamethrowers, which feature a 30,000-volt ignition system. The 350-cubic inch V8 has been bolstered with a supercharger; Fast Five-quality smoke comes from a bleach-spraying system on its rear wheels. There’s also spy cameras built into the front and rear, a hydraulic rear suspension, roll cage and, because it’s a post-apocalyptic world, a sawed-off shotgun in the trunk.

The rear seats also fold down, in case the driver needs to carry extra cases of whoopass.

Bellflower hits theaters August 5; you can see some hot action here.

Photos: Jalopnik

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Arctic Whisperer, World’s First Quick-Charge Hybrid Bus

Electric buses are awesome. They don’t belch exhaust, they’re super-quiet and they’re a relatively easy way to get around town. But unless you’re stringing overhead lines all over the place, the range sucks.

A Spanish firm has found a clever solution to that problem and is testing it in Umeå, Sweden.

Opbrid tweaked a Volvo 7700 bus to create the world’s first fast-charging serial hybrid bus, “Arctic Whisper.” It can be recharged in minutes at the end of each route, letting the fleet operator run it 18 hours a day.

The bus features a 100 kilowatt-hour Altairnano Valence lithium-ion battery that keeps the e-Traction hub motors turning for up to three hours. When the batteries run down, a diesel generator keeps juice flowing. Opbrid’s clever range-extender works like this:

At the end of each route the driver pulls under a long metal bar called, appropriately, a Bůsbaar. The driver flips a lever, raising a pantograph that contacts the bar and charges the bus in 5 to 10 minutes, providing enough juice to to 10 or 15 kilometers. At the end of the day, the bus is plugged in at the bus barn. If anything goes sideways, the bus still has the diesel generator to provide power.

It took about six weeks to build the bus, which is called Arctic Whisperer because it’s said to be so quiet passengers can hear each other even when whispering. The conversion was relatively straightforward. It required installing some batteries to operate the pantograph, rewriting the software and beefing up the charging system to handle the quick charge.

Umeå was a natural to test the technology because it is a university town with a lot of students who ride the bus. Diesel fuel and alt fuels like ethanol are expensive in Sweden, but the city gets a lot of electricity from hydro and wind. The city hopes to have several Arctic Whisperers on the streets by 2014, when it will be the Cultural Capital of Europe.

Photo and video: Opbrid

U. of Michigan Solar Car Slims Down to Go Down Under

Only two things matter when building a race car powered by the sun: maximizing efficiency and minimizing weight. Everything else is secondary when the goal is crossing a continent using just enough energy to power a hair dryer.

All the top teams in the esoteric sport of solar racing embrace this “less is more” ethos to a degree that would please Colin Chapman. But the University of Michigan, arguably America’s best team, has taken it to fanatical levels in a relentless drive to win the World Solar Challenge in October.

The biennial sprint across Australia is the oldest and most prestigious race of its kind, the Daytona 500 or Monaco Grand Prix of solar racing. No American team has won the 1,800-mile race since General Motors’ Sunraycer led the inaugural run in 1987. The University of Michigan Solar Car Team is determined to end the drought. It has spent more than $1 million building Quantum, its most advanced solar car ever.

“It’s the ultimate electric vehicle,” said Chris Hilger, a junior chemical-engineering major who is the team’s business manager. “At its heart, it’s an electric vehicle that uses top-of-the-line technology, from the batteries to the motor to the communications. It just happens to be solar.”

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Software Takes On More Tasks in Today’s Cars

The growing role of complex software in a wide range of products provides increased functionality and value for consumers. From gadgets to cars to the power industry, we’re seeing more industries embrace software that tailors products to our individual needs.

This is especially true in the auto industry as cars grow more reliant upon software to manage everything from advanced drivetrains to elaborate infotainment systems. The Chevrolet Volt offers an excellent case in point: The plug-in hybrid relies upon 10 million lines of code, which is 2 million more than you’ll find in the F-35 fighter jet.

Given the increasing prevalence of software, it’s no mystery why Toyota signed a deal with Microsoft to bring telematics to cars from the cloud. Microsoft worked with Ford on the groundbreaking Sync system.

Google, IBM and Cisco also are moving into the automotive space. According to one study, 90 percent of the innovation we’re seeing within the auto industry is driven by advancements in software and gadgetry.

“This is having a huge impact on every traditional area, because all the functionalities you might have in electronics or mechanical (systems) are being shifted to software,” Dominic Tavassoli, director of IBM Rational, said. His outfit helped assemble the code in the Volt. “There’s a lot of rethinking going on.”

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