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Do You REALLY Understand Your Car?

Traditionally, the predominantly male operators of any form of transport craft confer a female personality to their vehicles. Down at a south coast yachting marina recently, I heard a proud owner boasting to a friend, saying “She’s truly beautiful”.

Pilots, including me, refer to their aircraft as “She”. “She flies nicely”, or “She doesn’t like being thrown about”, “She needs a touch of power when rounding out to land”.

Who could argue that She is beautiful. Supermarine Spitfire showing her elegance. Image courtesy Airwolfhound under CCA SA 2.0

It’s the same with cars, and it’s common to hear people, including women, referring to their cars as “She”. Before I get angry comments from my lady readers – yes, I am aware that many women own male cars, some that I know even name them.

The tradition of referring to a vessel as “She” goes back to ancient times. Nowadays, people may consider that this is somehow sexist, and objectifies women.

I prefer to believe that it’s more fundamental than that. Our early mariners were a superstitious bunch, and believed that the ship in which they sailed would offer protection and guidance, in much the same way that a mother or goddess would.

I refer to my aircraft as a “She”, as in my eyes she is elegant, pleasing to the eye, and demands to be treated with respect.

Today, there appears to be another reason.

Now, be honest. How many of you chaps out there believe that you don’t understand the woman in your life? How many long-suffering ladies out there are stupefied with their blokes’ methods and logic?

I have been happily with SWMBO for over three decades, but there are times when I am truly and utterly baffled by her. I know for sure that she experiences the same sense of bewilderment with my behaviour.

You may be wondering where this is going, but stay with me, dear reader.

If, like me, you own and operate, say, a five-year-old car, it will be fitted with some basic driver assistance systems. My car has rear parking sensors and steerable headlights. That’s it. Nothing fancy. It has standard Cruise Control, and an anti-lock braking system, like the one fitted to my previous 2002 Skoda Octavia.

If you decide to invest in a new car today, be prepared to be a little baffled by its behaviour and systems. (New cars are definitely female!).

In a previous article, I mentioned the Automated Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that are fitted to modern vehicles.

It’s likely your new pride and joy will be fitted with Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assistance, Blind Spot Monitoring, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Collision Avoidance Systems, Driver Alertness Monitoring, 360º Cameras and Intelligent Parking Aids.

To make the best use of these systems, drivers need to fully understand how they operate.

A few months ago, I decided to evaluate electric cars. I arranged to test drive cars provided by three of the main manufacturers, Kia, Nissan and MG.

Now, bearing in mind that all the vehicles I tested were fitted with some sophisticated systems, you would have thought that a full tutorial or some guidance would be offered by the salesmen before they let me loose on the road in one of their expensive cars.

Not quite.

All the dealers involved were more than happy to show me the boot space, and the clever stowages and storage areas, and gave me a very brief explanation of how to interpret the instruments and how to use the infotainment system, but not one discussed any elements of the ADAS in any real detail at all.

Luckily, I had conducted quite a bit of prior research, so I had a reasonable idea of how to change the level of regenerative braking, and how to use the different driving modes. However, there were many systems that, whilst I knew they were there, I had no idea how to configure them.

I have several friends who have recently purchased new cars, and when picking up their new vehicles, each one received no real training on how to use the systems correctly and effectively.

I have considered this, and it seems that this presents a bigger problem than I initially thought.

After collecting their new car from the dealer, proud owners will drive their new vehicle home, and maybe they will find the time to sit and wade through the Driver’s Handbook or Owner’s Manual. The onus is very much on them to gain understanding of the plethora of safety systems that their car is now loaded with.

More mature drivers, such as myself, will fall back on our “What’s to learn” mentality. We have grown up with cars fitted with few safety systems – maybe embryonic energy absorbing crumple zones, and collapsible steering columns. This is flawed thinking!


We had relatively unsophisticated in-car entertainment – maybe a push button radio, or a radio cassette player if we were driving a more luxurious model. I can remember being delighted with the fact that my first company car was fitted with a proper heated rear window and a fitted rear wash/wipe system.

Our cars were so simple that we just picked up the use of what systems we had as we drove. I think my biggest challenge was remembering on which side of the steering column the indicator control was located. The first few days of driving was always entertaining, with me switching the wipers on before making a turn!

So, for drivers of my generation, it is possible that we have a degree of complacency about the new systems, and maybe we don’t bother to sit down and read the book. (I do, but then I’m a bit geeky, having been a flight technical instructor for the past two decades!).

That may not be a good attitude to have these days.

In my world of professional aviation, we frequently refer to human factors, and even have training sessions on how simply being human affects the way in which a pilot interacts with an aeroplane.

There is a lot of automation on a modern aircraft flight deck. Autopilot, Auto Throttles, Flight Control Computers, Flight Management Computers, Automated Anti-Collision Systems, Ground Proximity Warning Systems, and Electronic Checklists and Diagnostics.

All of these systems must be understood, reacted to correctly, and effectively managed by the flight crew.

Despite high levels of safety-related automation, there are still incidents involving the crew falling asleep in flight, and flying past their destination. We still hear of aircraft being landed at the wrong airfields.

The same human factors will come into play in our increasingly automated cars.

There have been numerous reports of Tesla cars being involved in colliding with emergency vehicles whilst the Autopilot was engaged.

Most definitely human factors incidents, as the drivers simply assumed that the car was infallible, and therefore mentally disengaged and stopped supervising the on-board equipment.

A study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) clearly showed that once drivers had engaged the Autopilot (or Adaptive Cruise Control) their focus of attention changed, and they spent much longer looking inside their cars, than paying attention to the road ahead.

Sometimes, drivers disengage to the point of falling asleep!

See this video of a Tesla driver, cruising and snoozing!

As a result, Nissan, at least, has incorporated what it calls an Intelligent Driver Alertness System. This system monitors the driver’s inputs to the steering wheel, and, using algorithms, it can predict the onset of tiredness and inattention. As arousal levels reduce, the chances of an accident increase, so the system suggests taking a break.

Screenshot of the Arousal Monitor. Wish my car would invite me for a coffee…

When I learned to drive, before making any manoeuvre, the mantra was “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre”. That has become ingrained behaviour, reinforced with 44 years of driving and in the region of 1.1 million miles travelled.

Wow! I have never worked that out before.

As a result, before lane changing, I always throw a quick glance in the door mirror. I have also ridden motorcycles for many years, so I can’t get out of the habit of looking over my shoulder as well.

If all is clear, I change lanes. Lots of people don’t do this and I have had to brake heavily to avoid being sideswiped on several occasions.

Interestingly, the Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) systems being fitted to cars now are really good. You may be lucky enough to drive such a car, and, in many cases, the door mirror contains an indicator that turns amber when another vehicle intrudes into the safety zone, and turn red if a collision would result in the driver changing lanes.

Another piece of research studied the rates of lane-changing accidents across 26 US States. It found that accidents causing an injury were reduced by 23% in vehicles fitted with BSM systems.

If every US vehicle in 2015 had been fitted with BSM, it is estimated that 50,000 accidents and 16,000 injuries could have been avoided!

The other aspect of Blind Spot Monitoring is that used when parking or reversing. Now, I use all three mirrors, even though my car has a rudimentary parking aid that sounds a tone with increasing frequency as I reverse closer to a solid object – including a person, although I have never tried this.

Now, a further study has shown that the drivers of cars fitted with rear view cameras and sensors do not look to the sides of their vehicle before commencing reversing manoeuvres

Surprisingly, the use of rear-view monitoring cameras only reduced accidents involving “reversing into or over something” (maybe a person??) by 17%.

Still, a 17% reduction, is better than no reduction at all.

So, it all boils down to training and gaining an understanding of the equipment fitted to our cars.

I decided to check what the UK Driving Syllabus includes for cars and light vans (Class B Vehicles).

What I found was of interest.

As the document is undated, but is on the government’s assets publishing service site, as at October 2021, I assume it is a current piece of guidance.

I quickly reviewed it, and found two main concerns.

Firstly, it only mentions one Automatic Driver Assistance System, and that is Cruise Control.

Secondly, it focuses totally on driving a fossil fuel-powered vehicle.

Not a single mention of electric cars.

I do understand that they haven’t been around for very long – I mean, the Nissan Leaf has only been on the road since 2010, and what’s eleven years when you are setting the standards for people to learn to drive?

Sarcasm aside, there must be a need to teach new generations of drivers about the features, advantages and benefits of their vehicle’s on-board safety systems.

Maybe they should also be teaching students about the limitations of both those very same on-board systems, and their limitations as a human being.

You decide…

Go Well.

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What Do Mars and Bicycles Have in Common?

It’s a lovely day.

The sky outside is an impossibly brilliant blue, with just the occasional cloud to add texture and remind me that nature is hard at work, even if I am not.

This is an absolutely perfect day for flying. Definitely VMC (For my non-aviation friends and readers, that is Visual Meteorological Conditions, meaning that navigating and staying in control of the aircraft is performed by looking out of the windscreen – rather than flying in cloud or above the cloud, thereby having to fly by using the aircraft instruments, known as Instrument Meteorological Conditions).

The perfect day for a fifteen minute trundle over to the airstrip, to pull my aircraft from the hangar. A quick but thorough pre-flight inspection, and then away up into the sky, to meander through the air, with no particular place to go.

Maybe a leisurely buzz south to the coast, then east to Beachy Head, and then back over the sunlit rolling chalk and downlands that make up large swathes of Sussex and Hampshire.

So, why then, am I sitting here in my den, hammering an article into my keyboard.

Well, for one thing, my aeroplane is currently being reassembled after a major rebuild. It’s sitting forlornly in the gloom of the hangar, its wings rigged, and its engine and systems all fitted. However, with no flight control surfaces rigged, she might as well be a boat.

Fully rigged, engine and systems up and running – but no flight controls…

Secondly, I am awaiting the arrival of the technician from Autoglass to change the windscreen on my car.

Travelling back home from work one afternoon, I thought that I had come under machine-gun attack, and the volley of stones that hit the screen might as well have been real bullets, as they plunged deep into the laminated glass, and with a noise like a pistol shot, three long cracks propagated across the screen.

A short phone call to my insurers and £75.00 lighter, and the windscreen would be fixed. It appeared that as I had previously had two chips repaired, this would be a brand new screen.

Well, I was expecting to have to make an appointment to drop the car off at a repair station, but no, it would be changed on my drive, and all in about an hour.

So, staying with the vehicle theme, some of you may have read my previous article on the levels of pollution that is caused by the interaction of car tyres on roads?

No?

It may be worth a read if you are interested in sustainability, climate change and pollution.

Vehicle tyres degrade with use, and the erosion of the tread causes the release of micro-particles that wash into waterways, and ultimately into the seas and oceans.

So, a new piece of space-age technology caught my eye.

My first exposure to NASA[1] was as a barely-ten-year-old boy watching the launch of Apollo 11 on the 16th of July 1969, and subsequently watching recorded footage of the lunar landing on school TV on Monday 21st July.

To say that I was awestruck was an understatement.  Subsequently I couldn’t read enough about space, and became an avid reader of the science fiction pulp magazines such as Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories that my dear old Dad used to buy from the secondhand bookstall not far from the tube station.

I think that by the time I was 13, I had the complete works of the mighty Isaac Asimov on my bookshelves, and was familiar with all of the Sci-Fi greats; Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Philip K Dick.

A few days before the launch of Apollo 11, the BBC aired it’s first episode of Star Trek, and I had become a fan almost instantly.

The Crew of NC-1701 Starship Enterprise – Star Trek the Original Series

And I have been a real fan of quality science fiction (not to be confused with science fantasy such as the Marvel Superheroes) ever since.

There has always been, however, a blurring of the lines between science fiction, and science fact. Which drives which?

In Star Trek, (the original series) we saw Captain Kirk being presented with what looks like an iPad tablet for him to sign. Uhura, the Comms Officer wears what looks like an ancestor to a Bluetooth earpiece, and Motorola designed a flip phone that looked suspiciously like a Star Trek communicator.

Lt. Uhura, wearing her early Bluetooth earpiece… Photo Courtesy ViacomCBS

I have to admit, that I am REALLY looking forward to using a dematerialisation transporter. Imagine just setting the co-ordinates of a friend’s house in California, and hitting the button and arriving microseconds later.

A universal replicator that ends poverty, and makes the use of money totally redundant…?

I digress…

So, it seems that Science Fact is now about to follow what was Science Fiction up until a few decades ago.

The continuing exploration of Mars has been conducted to a great extent by the Mars Rover vehicles, which have been sedately pottering over the Martian landscape since 1997. Kitted out with sensors, cameras and communications equipment these vehicles have been surveying our nearest planetary neighbour.

Perseverance, the Mars Rover – Photo Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

In order to traverse the hostile terrain, the current rover, Perseverance, is equipped with six 52.5cm (20.7 inch) wheels made from aluminium and springy titanium spokes. The wheels are fitted with cleats for additional traction.

Well…

It seems that the NASA-developed tyre technology may be coming to a vehicle near you – well, initially, a bicycle near you!

NASA – Not just a Space Agency! Designers, Developers and Scientists

These highly advanced tyres are designed by the SMART (Shape Memory Alloy Radial Technology) Tire company, and manufactured by NASA using a highly elastic material called NiTinol+.

The Rover’s wheels – Light, and very robust! Photo Courtesy NASA/JPL-CalTech

Virtually all elastic materials will stretch, and then they may almost revert back to their previous shape and strength. Most will lose their resilience and potency – think of a well-used bungee strap.

The clever thing about the metal alloy used in the construction of Perseverance’s wheels is that it actually changes its molecular composition when it is flexed or distorted. Once no longer subjected to any loads, the material simply returns to its prior profile, and the molecules are rearranged to their previous composition.

Tyres constructed from this material would no longer need to have inner tubes, or be inflated with air – no more punctures, less weight, and the added strength of Titanium.

The outer surface of the “tyre” may be coated with a highly resilient synthetic rubber called Polyurethanium.

The robust nature of the tyre combination means that a SMART tyre will probably exceed the life of the vehicle to which it is fitted! There will be no risks of punctures, and deflations, no need to use sealants or carry a spare wheel.

In comparison to conventional steel, this new alloy, known as METL, is thirty times quicker to recover to its original profile. This made it ideal for use in the hostile environment and rugged terrain of Mars.

Now the good news!

These revolutionary tyres are about to be launched – initially for bicycles, which will enable further development to be carried out for heavier vehicles.

SMART Tire prototype clearly showing woven metal construction, Photo Courtesy SMART Tires

SMART Tires has already collaborated with the Micro-mobility scooter provider, Spin (owned by the Ford Motor Company) to develop tyres for electric scooters.

Currently, this is a small-scale project, but in due course, it will become a primary challenge for the $250 billion global tyre industry to adapt to and deliver. This will be driven, in part, by the ever more urgent need to reduce emissions of any kind.

SMART Tires aims to launch their range of tyres to the cycling community by 2022, and once in full production, will no doubt start developing wheel/tyre units for the automobile and motorcycle industries.

Prototype SMART Tyre designed for a bicycle – Photo courtesy SMART Tires

I imagine that the launch range of bike tyres will be expensive initially, and will appeal to only the upper echelons of competition cyclists, but the economy of scale will undoubtedly reduce prices to the level where they may be bought in your local high street bicycle shop.

So, in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard…

“Make it so!”

Well, Maybe buy one of these after I have bought the tyres! If I have any cash left!

[1] National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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Who is Driving YOUR Car?

Those of you who are of a “certain age” may well remember the song Car 6-7, the lyrics of which tell the sad story of a taxi driver who has split up from his girlfriend, and is turning down a pick-up from control, as it’s the ex-girlfriend.

That was back in November 1978, and the old-fashioned two-way VHF radios used in taxi cabs have been largely been updated, and to a certain extent have been superseded by smart phones and booking software.

Typical 2-way VHF transceiver as used by mini-cab companies in the 1970s and 1980s

We have all become used to very sophisticated communications systems; Bluetooth earpieces and microphones, Wi-Fi internet connections, cordless phones and smart speakers such as Alexa.

Modern cars are no exceptions. My car has a Bluetooth system that will support two mobile phones; My 2013 motorcycle has the same. 

Very sophisticated.

Well, it was in 2017 when it rolled off the production line in Kvasiny in the Czech Republic.

Kvasiny in the Czech Republic – the home of the Skoda Yeti…

But things are changing fast, and we are now moving into the world of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).

ITS is a futuristic totally integrated transport system that uses an infrastructure of sensors, communications links, artificial intelligence and algorithms to monitor and manage traffic flow, safety and incidents. Data collected may also be used to help design safer and more efficient transport systems, which may be optimised for different conditions.

We are already using a very basic kind of ITS; We have CCTV cameras that remotely monitor our motorways and road networks. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras that are able to identify and trackthe driving behaviour of a specific vehicle, and monitor entry and exit times of vehicles using private car parking facilities.

ANPR and CCTV cameras…

We have under-road systems that monitor the volume and speed of traffic[1] – (You may have wondered about those geometric grids in each lane of the motorway placed at regular intervals?), speed-monitoring enforcement cameras mounted on overhead gantries, and Variable Message Signs (VMSs) 

All of these systems will look like they came out of the stone age when compared with what’s coming very soon.

Intelligent Transport Systems combine data that comes from a variety of sources. 

One of the sources of dynamic data are vehicles that are actually using the road network.

Cars have recently become a lot smarter. My ancient vehicle (4 years old) is just about capable of talking to my smart phone. 

New vehicles will be able to communicate on many different levels.

Imagine, if you will, a car that is able to independently communicate with other, similarly equipped vehicles.This is the most basic system, referred to as V2V

Cars are already fitted with Autonomous Driver Assistance Systems which include obstacle detection, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning systems, and adaptive cruise control. See my previous article entitled Autonomous Vehicle Safety Devices – Do you turn YOURS off? for details.

Maybe the car ahead detects an obstacle, and applies the emergency brakes. This information in instantaneously broadcast to all following vehicles, and this in turn allows them to begin braking – before a human driver is even aware that an emergency exists.

Vehicles may also be designed to interact with the infrastructure (traffic signals, traffic density and speed monitors, road condition sensors etc). This is known as V2I. 

A V2V/V2I equipped vehicle starts to lose traction on a wet road, and begins aquaplaning. A message is sent from the vehicle to other vehicles, and also to the fixed highway infrastructure. The infrastructure may then automatically activate warning signs and reduce speed limits accordingly.

This is not science fiction.  This is Science Fact.

Infrastructure sensors that continually monitor the depth of water on the road surface and the road surface temperature already exist, and are integrated into the ITS. 

The UK’s Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) have been operating a sophisticated network of subsurface sensors that are capable of accurately detecting overloaded Heavy Goods Vehicles. This system is known as WIMS, short for Weight In Motion Sensors. This uses induction loops and special sensors to detect the weight being carried by each axle of the truck in question. When combined with ANPR cameras, the system will identify the vehicle, and also be able to calculate whether it is overloaded, and whether it is complying with the speed limit.

Other car communications systems enable the vehicle to exchange data with the wider internet of things, and may also inter-exchange with other transport modes. This is known as Vehicle to Cloud (V2C). This would enable a vehicle to be able to communicate with trains, aircraft ships and exchange other relevant data.

Lastly, cars will also be able to communicate with pedestrians. (V2P). This would allow vehicles to update pedestrians on their status, and speed of approach. Such information could be received by the pedestrian by using a smart phone. 

Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, farm vehicles and even bicycles will all become part of a communicating interactive network, and ultimately connected to the global internet of things.

Combine the automated on-board driver assistance systems with the benefits of a smart, thinking and proactive transport network, and road safety may show some dramatic improvements.

Currently in the UK, about 40% all vehicle accidents were as a direct result on a driver “failing to see” the other vehicle. 

In our brave new world, your car probably won’t let you pull out of that junction as its already identified an approaching car, assessed the risk, and calculated that there would be a collision! That’s assuming that both cars are V2V/V2I equipped.

Old duffers like me driving a 2017 model will still have to rely on the Mark I eyeball, and the basic training received nearly 45 years ago.

The old saying that the best safety device in a car was a well-trained driver may no longer be true.

Live Long and Prosper…


[1] MIDAS – Motorway Incident Detection and Auto-Signalling. An Induction loops system that senses a vehicles presence using magnetism.

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If You Think Humanity Is Stupid Now, Keep Polluting and See What Happens…

Climate change.

We have been hearing about it in the news almost every day, until it was supplanted by other issues. The run-up to BREXIT, the general election, floods, and now the Coronavirus pandemic have made us all temporarily dump the issue and public attention is now fully occupied with the control of the global pandemic.

The mainstream media have highlighted the drop in climate-change gases – a direct link to a significant reduction in both travel and manufacturing following global lockdown.

From a planetary perspective, the drop is not highly significant and as soon as lockdown finishes, we will probably revert to our old ways very quickly. 

Having said that, I am hopeful that state governments will use the opportunity to consolidate some of the steps that have been taken to enable the use of alternative means of transport – making that small reductions permanent. 

We have seen cities around the world banning vehicular traffic from city streets, together with enhancing cycle lanes and pedestrian routes, making it easier and cleaner to travel.

Electric Bicycles – the best of both worlds – and you can take them on the train!

This is nowhere near enough, but at least it is showing that people can get around large cities safely without using a car or public transport.

All the media focus revolves primarily around the ever-increasing levels of air pollution that are triggering climate change, rising sea levels and rising temperature.

There is, however, an interesting health issue that lurks in the sidelines.

As a species, we rely on breathing air, from which we extract oxygen, and then exhale CO2, together with other gases such as Nitrogen and Methane, and some organic compounds.

In order for our bodies to function correctly we rely on our lungs to absorb oxygen and exhale the COin the correct ratios. 

The composition of the air that we breathe is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, and 1% Argon. There are also traces of CO2, and rare gases such as Xenon, Neon, Helium, Methane.

As we increase the levels of CO2 in the air, our lungs will be unable to exhale the surplus and this will be absorbed into the body, which will have an effect.

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Colorado in Boulder, The Colorado School of Public Health, and the University of Pennsylvania, evidence suggests that future levels of CO2 may severely impair our cognitive ability.

The study based its research on two scenarios; one, a world where human society reduces the amount of CO2 it releases into the atmosphere, and the other where we don’t – “business as usual.”

Alarmingly, even when we do reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we release into the ecosystem, by the year 2100, individuals would still be exposed to elevated levels (by today’s standards) of CO2 leading to a 25% decrease in cognitive abilities.

The reduction in mental ability is caused by an increase in CO2 in the brain, a condition called Hypercapnia. which leads to a reduction in brain/blood oxygen (Hypoxemia).

The result is a reduction in brain activity, decreased levels of arousal and excitability. On top of this, it induces sleepiness, and anxiety, the result of which is an impact on our cognitive functions such as learning, memory, strategising and crisis management.

Lost Concentration…? Foggy Brain…? Maybe thats Air Pollution for you…Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

This is easily understood. Who hasn’t been in a lecture room, classroom or meeting room, where our concentration wanders, and we get tired and disengaged. The result of excess CO2 released by a lot of individuals. The solution is normally to open a window to let in some fresh air.

But what if the air outside was not really fresh at all? 

A report in 2001 (Robertson) argued that even slightly elevated levels of CO2 (720 parts per million) could cause lowered pH in the blood (acidosis) leading to restlessness, mild hypertension and ultimately confusion.

The report concluded that if we continue with “business as usual”, flagrantly releasing megatons of COinto the atmosphere, by 2100 we could see our cognitive functions reduced by as much as 50%.

Unless we build on this virally-induced reduction in CO2 and continue to decrease global pollution, we may survive this.

If not, we, as a race, are doomed to become the joint recipients of the last-ever Darwin Awards.

Charles Darwin, Author of The Origin of Species.

Go Well…

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Coronavirus – The Catalyst for Global Change?

Unless you have been living on the Cook Islands for the last few months, you will have heard of Corona Virus, now known as COVID 19.

The virus is officially a global pandemic, and is now rampaging across every continent, leaving a trail of dead.

Here in the United Kingdom, we are in a state of national emergency, and state-sanctioned lockdown is in effect, with only absolutley essential journeys authorised. All retail shops except those selling essential supplies such as food, maedicines and perhaps bizzarely, alcohol are closed.

The London Underground has shut stations across its network, and passengers figures are plummeting.

Stations shut as a result of Coronavirus

Working at home has been the norm for many workers. As a result, the economy is in freefall, with the retail and hospitality sectors being worst hit. Clubs, pubs, cinemas, churches, sports centres, museums and public buildings are now all closed for the immediate future.

The aviation and maritime sectors have been quick to feel the impact of travel restrictions, and many airports are struggling as flights have become virtually non-existent, passenger traffic stagnated, and many airlines now trying to mitigate their losses by flying freight.

Flight Radar 24 – Screenshot showing flights in South East England. This was taken mid morning on the 13th April 2020. This airspace would normally be teeming with traffic, given that this is a Public Holiday in the UK.

Whilst the global shutdown is severely damaging both our manufacturing and financial economies, we are reaping some form of benefit; pollution levels have dropped across the planet, and air quality is improving.

Imagery from the Copernicus Programme’s Sentinel 5P satellite. The left hand image shows Nitrous Oxide pollution over France and Italy. Darker Red is higher levels of pollution. The right hand image shows how the levels and extent have reduced throughout the month of March 2020

It’s not just transport that contributes to atmospheric pollution – industrial and manufacturing activities have fallen across the UK and Europe as countries shutdown their economies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

This shows that it is possible to stop climate change, but the societal costs are far too high to make this acceptable.

I do believe that when the virus is contained or burnt out, we will emerge from lockdown and social distancing as a changed society.

So, what may happen?

Many firms that up until recently were resistant to their employees working remotely will have seen that some of their “trust issues” have been proved to be unfounded and that staff have been as productive, if not more productive that when working at the office.

Bearing in mind the cost of office space, many companies may find the savings realised by using smaller premises make remote working desirable.

After a major pandemic such as this one, people may be far more cautious about personal hygeine, and become much more concerned to see that public areas are properly sanitised. This could have an effect on the practice of hot desking at work.

The travelling public will probably also need to see evidence that public transport is cleaned and sanitised far more regulalrly and effectively than currently.

The lack of public trust in the health security of public transport could trigger more car use, as people seek to protect themselves with more regularised self isolating. Even car sharing could become less popular as people choose not ot sit in close proximity with another individual on their commute.

Who can really say?

If thousands more people take up remote working, there may well be more economic pain ahead for public transport operators.

Railway and air journeys that used to be undertaken for business meetings may well now be conducted using video conferencing using internet platforms such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

Will our current level of communications network provision be sufficient to accommodate this?

Individuals that were reluctant to order shopping on-line, or use home delivery services prior to COVID 19 have now been using them out of necessity, and many of these people will now be sold on the advantages, leading to further decline of England’s high streets.

Individuals that were previously regular patrons of theatre and cinema will have become adept at streaming movies and watching “live” performances from the comfort of their own homes, using YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The question is – will they return to the cinemas and thatres with quite the same degree of regularity as they did before?

It seems that the mainstream media have been focusing on the leisure and retail industries and whilst they do report on the struggle for our manufacturing industries, they do not highlight the underlying problems.

In the UK there is evidence that our contingency planning for a “Hard Brexit” triggered our government to closely examine our logisitcal supply chains with the involvement of the retail and distirbution industries, and this has surely helped ensure that truly essential items remained on the supermarket shelves, despite the media-induced panic buying.

The other aspect to this is the lack of resilience that our manufacturers have against supply chain failures.

Whilst numerous products are proudly made here in the UK, few are totally built here. Huge numbers of manufacturers import sub-assemblies, parts and components from overseas which are used to build their product.

The world’s biggest exporter, China, is, to all intents and purposes, the birthplace of COVID19, and also its primary exporter. The subsequent lockdown of the Chinese economy led to an abundance of British manufacturers struggling to obtain the raw materials, parts, components and sub-components needed to build and sell their own products..

This may result in a baseline realignment of our logisitical networks, and maybe re-initiate inward investment.

Who knows, we may see a slow transformation back into a manufacturing economy again.

This is a bit of a mixed bag then; at more localised levels the possible resulting drop in bus and train usage could lead to more cars on the road, each contributing to climate change. On the other hand, more people at home reduces traffic of any kind on the roads.

There are so many possible futures that could result from the aftermath of CV19, which only action at government level can establish.

This could be a great opportunity for each state to re-evaluate its’s strategies for handling pandemics, and may trigger new systems to increase the robustness of manufacturing bases.

Who knows, it may even give us the required impetus to design an improved model for society that will offer progress on controlling our nemesis of irreversible climate change.

Go Well…

Categories
Civil liberties Elderly Electric Transport English Culture Motoring Nostalgia Politics Science Society Transport Travel Uncategorized

Elderly Drivers – Good or Bad – I Hope To End Up As One! (Or – Are They Safe?)

I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.

It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.

Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.

I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.

It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.

I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.

I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.

I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.

Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric?  Who knows.

I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.

 

Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.

I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.

According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams[1] drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.

The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.

That surprised me a little.

Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.

Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.

So where does this leave the older driver.

Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats[2] instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.

So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.

The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.

So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.

Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.

 

Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.

Now a quick look at the science.

Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.

The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.

Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.

When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.

But us oldies are fighting back!

It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.

Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.

Now – back to my original thoughts.

As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.

road-safety-character-elderly-driver

Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.

In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.

The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.

This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002[3], where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.

Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.

I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.

Manual-Transmissions  0009e2bb5fd7-3095-4bef-8

So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!

Mark Charlwood© January 2020

[1] Article Click4Reg April 2017

[2] Older Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016 data) Published May 2018

 

[3] Warshawsky-Livine & Shinar (2002)

Categories
Aircew Airport Ecological Electric Transport Environment Flight pilots Society Technology Transport Travel Uncategorized

Electric Taxi – A New Brand New Era in Green Aviation Practice

.Ask anyone in the street about pollution and noise, and most folk will immediately talk about the road transport industry, or, if like me, they live near a major airport, then they would probably refer to the airlines.

Over the last fifty years, air travel has opened up a whole new dimension to travellers. Whether travelling on business, or taking the family away, air travel enables people to reach some of the remotest parts of our planet.

During the early and mid parts of the 20th century, air travel was expensive, and only those travellers with access to a large amount of disposable wealth could afford to fly. 

This was in part caused by the relative lack of supporting infrastructure, but the size of aircraft was also a limiting factor.

The biggest direct operating cost for any airline is that of fuel, and the current smaller aeroplanes were unable to offer the economies of scale necessary to place flying within the reach of the average man. 

To put this into perspective, in the early 1960s, the workhorse of the sky was the Boeing B707, which had a seating capacity of about 140. 

On the 22nd January 1970 Pan Am introduced the very first Boeing 747-100 into service. This aeroplane changed the face of aviation forever.  With its massive seating capacity, of more than double that of the 707, the costs for air travel fell dramatically, and even the poorest backpacker could save enough money to make a transatlantic or transpacific flight.

Over the years, developments of the 747 have continued, and as an example, a British Airways 747-400 will carry 345 passengers over vast distances.

But there are always other factors.  The 1973 oil crisis made fuel costs escalate rapidly, and a number of airlines went out of business. Those that survived recognised the need for newer far more fuel efficient aircraft.

Aircraft manufacturers rose to the challenge, and many new aeroplane were developed, constructed from much lighter materials, including polymers and carbon fibre materials. 

Engine manufacturers have developed cleaner, quieter and far more fuel efficient engines, and new software driven control systems enable aircraft to fly far higher, out of the worst of the weather, and at altitudes where engines are even more frugal.

Sadly, this is still not enough.  The global energy crisis continues, and international concern with  climate change is driving fuel costs upwards.

Airlines are looking to save costs wherever they can.  Most airlines will defer operating the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) until shortly before boarding, and some airlines have established a policy that requires aircraft to be taxied with one engine shut down.

The economics of this are sound, and saving may be made.

According to Airbus Industrie an Airbus A320 fitted with CFM56 engines will burn 250kg of fuel conducting a twenty minute average taxi time. A single engine taxi of the same duration will burn a reduced amount of 190kg.

Using IATA fuel data, jet fuel (Jet A-1) costs £0.3613 per kilo so a single engine taxi will cost the operator £68.65.  Two engines £72.26. This is doubled effectively, as the aircraft also has to taxi in after landing, which again, will take an average of twenty minutes.

Throughout 2014 fuel prices fell by an average of 42.8%, so it is reasonable to assume that they could rise again by the same amount, giving taxi costs of between £98.03 and ££103.19. 

A very simple costing taking into account British Airways fleet of 105 Airbuses, assumes that each aircraft flies 5 sectors a day (5×2 taxies = 10 x 20 minutes x 105) that’s a massive 350 hours of taxiing. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 12.5kg/min = 262,500 kg = 262.50 tonnes!

Now the figures look very different. In the above example, fuel currently costs £361.25 per tonne.  

£94,828 to just taxi around the airfield. Remember this is just a single days operation for one short haul fleet. 

Operators will be very keen to both minimise taxi times, and to reduce costs as much as possible during taxiing.

Airbus have been working on a new self propelled taxying system for the Airbus A320 series, known as eTaxi.

This system utilises a powerful air cooled electric motor that drives the main landing gear wheels via a self contained gearbox.

Powered is provided by the APU generator. The eTaxi motor has sufficient power and torque to enable the aircraft to be reversed off the parking stand, and then taxied to the holding point for the departure runway. At this point, the engines may be started.

Naturally, current procedures and checklists would have to be amended and modified to reflect the use of eTaxi to ensure continuation of current ground movement safety.

The eTaxi system offers many benefits.  Airbus’s own studies have shown that even greater fuel savings may be made than by using single engine taxying. 

Using the AP/eTaxi and a single engine for taxying equates to a fuel burn of 140kg, and full electric taxying only 40kg for the same 20 minute taxy.  

 Using the same fleet data as before, the savings are considerable. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 2kg/min = kg = 42.00 tonnes!

With fuel in our example currently costing £361.25 per tonne, 42 tonnes costs £15,172.50, a massive daily saving of £79,655.50!

Naturally,  there is a weight penalty for the eTaxi equipment, consisting of motor, gearbox, wiring harness and software and control equipment, but Airbus Industrie quotes this as being about an extra 400kg, and over a 500nm sector, this would require an additional fuel burn of 16kg.

Overall the use of eTaxi with both engines shut down, and including a 5 minute engine warm up and a 3 minute engine cool down, will offer a trip fuel saving of about 3% on a typical A320 sector of 700nm. 

So, the airline accountants will be happy with the considerable direct financial savings.  However, there are many other associated benefits by using an eTaxi. 

During taxying operations, aircraft frequently have to stop, accelerate, turn and hold in position.  This places wear on the brakes, and incurs fuel penalties every time that the thrust levers are opened to recommence taxying.  

As eTaxi is a direct drive system, the normal wheel brakes become redundant, the braking being delivered through the gearbox itself.  

 Environmentally, eTaxi makes a lot of sense.  The use of clean electricity for ground movements will significantly reduce the amount of NOx (Nitrogen Oxides such as Nitric Oxide and Nitrogen Dioxide) and CO (Carbon Monoxide) found in the local atmosphere.  Noise levels will also be significantly reduced. 

An additional benefit is a reduced exposure to the risk of the engine ingesting foreign objects, and extending the time between mandated engine inspections and checks.  

Bearing in mind that the biggest cost for an airline is fuel. Last year British Airways spent £3.5 Billion pounds on fuel. Most large national carriers will be spending about the same.  The figures are almost too large to contemplate. 

It would appear then, that any additional costs in retrofitting such devices to an existing fleet will pay for itself many times over, and any airline that specifies new deliveries without this option are potentially wasting millions.

Facts from Airbus Industrie publication FAST 51

Fuel costs from IATA Fuel cost analysis 2015

BA fleet data from http://www.ba.com

BA Fuel costs data from http://www.iag.com

Mark Charlwood©2015. Mark Charlwood is the owner of the intellectual property rights to this work. Unauthorised use is not permitted. If you want to use this article please contact me for permission. Thank you. 

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