... seeking simple answers to complex problems, and in the process, disrupting the status quo in technology, art and neuroscience.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Liquid Piston's New Engine Design

It's fascinating to see the various ways of converting liquid fuel to horsepower.  The Otto piston has long dominated, but is famously inefficient.  Wankel was a nice challenge, but suffered from low compression and its oil squeegee valves burned more than they wiped.

The LiquidPiston guys set out solve the problems of both designs, and they may be getting close with this inverse Wankel approach.  The picture above is of the older X1 design and the text at this link is distracting, but watch the video for a quick visualization:

Autoevolution on the LiquidPiston X Mini Engine

Here's a much better presentation of the technology:

Gizmag on the LiquidPiston X2 Engine

And here is a description of their early prototype:

MIT Technology Review of the X0 LiquidPiston

It will be interesting to see how this technology evolves.

Another weight and space efficient engine:

The Duke Axial

A better movie

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Amazing New Air Car - It's NOT About the Air!


09-18-14 - Another radical light car for Paris.  This one is 2100 lbs and uses Air/Hybrid to get 141 MPG.  Are the French on a roll?

01-25-13 - Peugeot Cirtoen to Introduce Compressed Air Hybrid by 2016

09-07-12 AIRPod

09-07-12 Tata AIRPod

07-05-11 - Tata Air Powered Car to be Introduced in India

02-26-09 - Yet one more way to use compressed air for braking recovery from ETH Zurich

First posted 01-19-08:

And it's not even about the car!

(note - whoever owned the MDI page when I posted this blog has diverted it to a new investment group and broken some of the links below. I have redirected them to the French or Guy pages as well as possible for now - thanks to Chris from Future Net.)

Every now and then a an idea comes along that will change the world - and gets mostly ignored. Some of you have heard me talking about this new air powered car from MDI (Moteur Developpment International) in France which is now to be manufactured by Tata Motors of India.

MDI did a press release a few weeks back and it was handled like, well, another press release. The automotive press paraphrased a few paragraphs, but I wonder if they actually THOUGHT ABOUT what they wrote?

And when Tata Motors introduced their more conventional yet inexpensive Nano at the Detroit Auto Show last week, it got amazing coverage, but not ONE mention of this new air car to be manufactured by the very SAME company!

The highly touted Tata Nano is a cute little bug that will get more than 50 MPG - cool. But the MDI OneCat which is about the same size will go more than 3 TIMES farther on the same gallon of fuel! Did no one actually READ the spec sheet on the OneCAT?

To be fair, the objective of the Nano is low price, not mileage. And the OneCat is much lighter, which helps, but surprisingly, that's not the key to it's mileage advantage. Here's how they do it...

As almost everyone knows, the standard internal combustion engine is only about 30% efficient under the very best of conditions. This means 70% of the energy in a gallon of gasoline leaves the car as wasted heat.

The only heat that produces power is that narrow band of highest temperature that causes rapid expansion of air when the spark plug fires. Once the piston reaches the bottom of it's cycle, all the lower temperature energy from that cycle is wasted and must be pumped out the exhaust pipe.

If you add MORE heat at the point of ignition (higher octane), you get more power. But Carnot and his second law of thermodynamics limits us from using any of the heat BELOW the temperature of ignition. THAT is the primary reason for the INefficiency of the internal combustion engine. But what if we COULD use ALL of that heat?

CAT - Compressed Air Technology

Guy Negre of Formula 1 fame and his company, Moteur Developpment International have spent the last 14 years developing a new type of engine for automobiles.

Compressed Air Technology has been described as using air as fuel, but that's not quite right. The air works more like a battery. Guy's design actually uses a carbon-fiber air tank with up to 300 times normal atmospheric pressure driving a piston to give the car a range of 100 Km. You can think of this system as a standard compressor motor and air tank - except it's running backwards. The air tank drives the compressor, instead of the other way around.

So far, no big deal. Any advantage is a matter of strength, weight and volume per unit of energy stored in the "battery" - the carbon-fiber tanks helps some. But if a short range compressed air car is all they had, it wouldn't be very impressive. The next refinement is the key and I now believe it was created in response to the problem of freezing the engine as the air was decompressed. Whenever air pressure drops from 300 Bar to 1, the gas laws say the heat in that original volume is now spread out over a much greater area thus dropping the temperature. Guy's "fix" to this problem had a side-effect that I believe to be the biggest advancement in thermal energy extraction since the invention of the Otto-cycle in 1860! It effectively uses "wasted heat".

Bi-Energy Breakthrough

Guy Negre's brilliant innovation is to add a small fuel burner between the air tank and the motor. The heat from this burner not only keeps the engine from freezing up, it also extends the range for the compressed air tank by increasing the pressure of the air even more on it's way to the motor. Properly insulated, this burner could approach 100% conversion efficiency of the burned fuel. Here's the reason...

Small amounts of heat are not enough to turn over a reciprocating motor. But when you add a compressed air tank, it provides a pressure bias great enough to drive the motor on it's own. Now add the burner. Per the gas laws, the pressure increase is proportional to the heat added - it doesn't require a critical temperature of ignition! You could run it tepid or boiling - ANY heat adds power. It's just a matter of how much.

If you double the burn rate, you'll double the added expansion. Since there's no point of ignition, there's no critical temperature before this energy is extracted. ANY heat added by a burner (or other source) will simply add proportional expansion and energy extraction. Theoretically, most of the energy from a gallon of gasoline (or stack of firewood) could be used to drive the motor.

Check the spec sheet above. I assume these are actual measurements. The OneCAT will go 100 Km on air alone, but another 700 Km on only 10.5 (1.5 Liters per 100 Km x 7) liters of fuel! That works out to almost 157 MPG!

More Than JUST an Amazing New Car

MDI has a good chance of creating an amazingly efficient little car, and that's cool. But what's REALLY exciting are all the other potential industrial applications.

Considering generation and line losses when producing electricity, it may even now be more efficient to run Bi-Energy motors at the site of the application instead of buying electricity. Or we could boost mechanical power from solar heating. Or hot sewer water for that matter! ANY source of heat could be used. It's just a matter of degree and effectiveness.

OK. You'll still need electricity to provide the compressed air bias, but the rest of the energy would be more efficiently extracted - the hotter, the better. What about recycling the heat from air conditioners to drive their OWN motors? I'm not talking about perpetual motion here. There's no free ride. It's just that the heat is no longer has to be totally wasted. This approach provides an excellent possibility of dramatically increased efficiency in anything that needs a rotating motor and has wasted heat available. (Note - MDI was WAY ahead of me - I just found this link on their site... Further Applications - WOW!)

These ideas are worth more than just a press release.

It's a whole new way of thinking about energy!

More Air Car Energy Links...

Guy Negre Page

MDI and Indranet

Dr Louis Arnoux Interview

Future Net



Others are picking up on using waste heat in this fashion - The VGT RoundEngine

06-20-20 Liquid Air Battery

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

VW Redefines "Car" With A 261-MPG Diesel Hybrid

As you can read, light efficient cars have been one of my favorite topics for a long time:

07-04-06 1974 VW Dasher

Update 03-06-13:

The Volkswagen XL1 just debuted in Geneva and claims a range of 261 mpg, with a curb weight of about 1,750 pounds. Its coefficient of drag is extremely low at 0.189. It’s powered by a 47-hp, two-cylinder turbodiesel paired with a 27-hp electric motor. VW says it will make 250 examples with a price near $100,000

Top Gear First Drive: the VW XL1

Update 01-25-11:

First posted on 02-18-10:

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Best Bike Is a Trike

First some history.  I've been hiking since I first put on shoes.

I did my first solo long-distance hike of 13 miles when I was 12 years old.  I started distance running in my teens. When drafted into the Army I was informed that my flat feet would eventually cause nerve compression.  I got special boots.

I built up to marathons in my 20s and 30s.  In the last couple of decades I've returned to mountain hiking, but longer distances and rougher ground.  I've hike across the Grand Canyon in nine hours.  I've ran and hiked across California from Reno to the ocean at Santa Cruz in multiple sections at different times, the longest of which was 51 miles in 16 hours. I've done parts of it twice.  I've hiked most of the 175 mile Tahoe Rim Trail at over 3 MPH pace.  Most of my life I've ran or hiked 40 to 50 miles a week.

But that all changed last January.

Yep.  On a hiking vacation to Las Vegas when I logged well over 100 miles in less than a week, that nerve finally compressed. I've had the condition diagnosed and treated, but it's now down to surgery of unpredictable outcome, or I back off the miles.  So we get to the topic at hand - bikes and trikes.

I'm not good at backing off exercise, so since February I've been riding my mountain bike.  These rides remind me of why I never liked bikes.  I hate spending all my time looking at the ground. My hands get numb from the vibration of the handle-bars, and those seats didn't deserve the title.  They are literally a pain in the ass.

Over the last few weeks I set out to find an alternative to my mountain bike.  It's not that I have a bad bike. It's an aluminum alloy Specialize with full suspension. I think it cost me over $2k new, and has lots of gears and cool features. It's the riding position I dislike.  Bikes are uncomfortable.

My Schwinn Stingray in 5th grade was the exception. Thinking back, it was almost a recumbent. It had a nice wide seat which you sat ON, instead of it having it inserted. And with high-risers there was not much weight on the handle-bars. Again, that wide seat took the load off the hands. Plus the visibility was excellent. It wasn't very fast, but it was agile and fun.

Last week I rode a tadpole style recumbent tricycle for the first time.  I found this guy in Alameda, California who is an expert with recumbents.  His name is Zach Kaplan.  He is a wealth of information.  If you have any interest at all and live in the area, spend some time with him.  He let me try out a couple of his trikes, and I fell in love with the experience immediately.

I now own the Catrike pictured above.  It's light, fast and agile.  I realize I'm too early in this honeymoon to be objective, but three wheels is SO much more fun than two.  Yes, I know I'm now harder to see on the road, but we live in the age of LED strobes.  I leave mine on.  And it's true that trikes don't climb hills as well as bikes, but those are the ONLY two drawbacks.

Trikes yield a more pleasant visceral experience.

Trikes are FAR more comfortable.

Trikes are FAR more stable.

Trikes can stop faster.

Trikes can go faster.

Trikes are more fun.

You can see the world around you better.

If you get the chance, give a trike a try.

You'll see what I mean.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Back to the Future with Motorcycles

When I was a kid, our family had a number of small motorcycles for trail riding.  They were light, agile and got great gas mileage.  My favorite was a 1965 Yamaha Trailmaster 80.  I spend lots of time exploring the mountains of Norther California on that "bike".

Unfortunately, the same thing happened to trailbikes that happened to cars - over the years, they got heavier. Then motors got bigger to carry that extra weight, which made everything heavier still.  Unlike cars, this weight had more impact on handling, especially on rough ground.  It's not easy getting a 300 lb motorcycle over a log.

I'm still waiting for a modern version of the 1978 VW Rabbit which weighed 1880 pounds dry.  With modern technology it should be able to get 100 MPG.  In the mean-time, it looks like Yamaha may be thinking the same thing.  It's only a concept, but it's headed in the right direction:

Yamaha shows retro lightweight 125cc motorcycle that gets 220 mpg

Bring it on!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Economic Predictions

Yogi Berra: “It is dangerous to make forecasts, especially about the future.”

In spite of Mr Berra's advice, I'm going to start a post here which I will update from time to time to make my economic predictions a matter of public record.  Some of these are summarized from the past.  The rest are current, predicting the future.

12-12-12 - I don't necessarily agree, but nice work none the less:

Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds

01-01-12 - The US Treasury still believes US banks have $9.9 trillion in home loans.  That's down only 7% ($10.6 trillion) from it's high in 2006.  Such denial!  A quarter will have to be written down sooner or later.  Another quarter will be paid by underwater home owners who simply don't want to move or accept the real value of their house.  So between the banks and home owners, there's still plenty of denial to go around.  I've said house prices won't bottom for another year, but this real estate toilet won't completely flush for another five to ten years (lost decade?).  With new construction minimal for at least another three years, US growth will continue it's long slow pull off the bottom with real growth rates staying under 4% and averaging only 2% for the next five years.  Still, real estate will remain the best long-term investment for anyone who has cash.

01-01-12 - The Euro will survive since Germany has already involuntarily funded the weak sisters through the central Buba bank claims of half a trillion Euros.  Now they only need formally loan that much so the weak sisters can own up to their claims in their central bank and hand the money back to them. In for a penny, in for a pound.

01-01-12 - China is building 36 million new apartments to distract investors from the 64 million condos already completed, but still standing empty. That's exactly 100 million new units total, which makes our 7 million empty houses look like a minor disturbance. 

The real question is, where will these 230 million people work when they come in from the farm?  And how much will they be paid?  The growth honeymoon is over in China.  Now they'll have to do it the hard way. Ironically, organized labor will be their next major political force on the street.  Stand by for volatile times in China.

01-12-15 - Canada's housing bubble should pop within 24 months.


01-31-11 - Collectibles will be the next financial bubble, will have a long expansion and selective contractions over years before final collapse.

06-29-14  RIGHT!  And it continues... The pain hasn't started.


The U.S. will gently return to a slow growth "new normal" as we complete our transformation to the information age, and continue to lead in tech design. 06-22-10

01-12-15 - As is common, the United States is leading the recovery.  The rest may catch up in a couple of years.

China will become the world's manufacture, but have the greatest volatility as they grow too quickly in political fits and starts.  Russia will provide grain and energy, but struggle to achieve true democracy.  India will evolve more slowly around customer service. Brazil will be the emerging star of the next decade.  Still not much hope for Africa. 06-22-10


01-01-10 - Because of last year's $150 per barrel oil, in less than five years we will be awash in energy from multiple sources such that energy will be available at the equivalent of $1.99 a gallon in today's dollars.

06-29-14 - Somewhat right.  Though about twice that, energy has remained relatively cheap and will continue that way for another six years at least.

01-12-15 - Last June's qualification was premature.  Right on schedule, Americans are paying LESS that $2 per gallon for fuel even WITHOUT inflation adjustment.  And to confirm, fuel will remain UNDER $4 per gallon for another five years.


We will have modest deflation for at least the next three years. 04-17-10

06-29-14 - RIGHT!  Four years and going strong, but has bifracated into biflation.  Basic goods and energy remain relatively cheap because of continued improvements in agriculture and manufacturing.  There is no general spiraling price increases.  But "unique" has taken on a whole new value in our culture reflected in the price of collectibles and some real estate - both have seen dramatic inflation using quantitative easing dollars of the one percent.  This trend will continue for another six years until at least 2020.


China's construction and real estate bubble will exceed the scale and impact of our own and will pop within 24 months, with dramatic effect. 04-17-10 - Wrong!  They built 38 million MORE lower cost apartments. The reckoning remains on the horizon - by 2016? 06-29-14 


06-29-14 - Deflation and low bond yields will continue to drive equities up for the longest bull market in history.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Embrace Burning Man 2014

The season's started!  Here's a major new project being developed in Reno at the Generator:


"I am.  We are.  It is" - a great summary from Larry Harvey, and a great start to the year:

Burning Man Festival: Charlie Rose - 03-21-14

DREAM - Art & Culture of Burning Man - 05-05-14

And while we're busy getting ready, here's AMAZING set of photos of an amazing event.  Afrika knows How to Burn:

AfrikaBurn - Trickster - 2014

AfikaBurn - The Movie

My favorite quote from the playa: "Burning Man is the same thing every year - completely different." - Guido

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lindsey Stirling

5-3-13  My shortest blog post ever:

Lindsey Stirling - Dubstep Violin

5-15-14  Another excellent dance video:

Sia - Chandelier

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Favorite Quotes

‘If our species had started with just two people at the time of the earliest agricultural practices some 10,000 years ago, and increased by one percent per year, today humanity would be a solid ball of flesh many thousand light years in diameter, and expanding with a radial velocity that, neglecting relativity, would be many times faster than the speed of light.’Gabor Zovanyi

As opposed to "Do to others what you would have them do to you", "Do to others what they would have you do to them". The golden rule presumes we are all alike. The Platinum rule is more subjective. 12-2714

"Freedom, to me, is the ultimate value. There is nothing higher than freedom." OSHO

Humor is intuition landing in our logic, like a fly in our metaphor. 04-02-14

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." - Paraphrased from Albert Einstein by Bob Samples 1976

“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” - Marthe Troly-Curtin July 1911

“I know one thing, that I know nothing.” - Socrates 500 BC

"I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief" - Gerry Spence.

"Expectations are premeditated resentments. Let the future find it's form."

"In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it." - Robert Heinlein

"Art is that which everything else isn't" - Theodore Roethke

"Moderation in all things, including moderation." - Oscar Wilde?

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein

"Revenge is for children and the emotionally retarded" - Frank Herbert

"Stay hungry, stay foolish." Stewart Brand

"Choice is just another word for discrimination, so when does my choice become your discrimination?" Rod Coleman 02-12-14

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Standards of Truth

If absolutes are an illusion of the human mind, how do we gauge relative truth?  When does a generalization become useful?

The American justice system takes this illusion into account and presents a good example of something useful with its two standards of proof. "More likely than not" is required to indict (bring to the court).  "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is required to convict (and proceed with sentence and execution).  Both evaluate evidence but ultimately require subjective conviction.  If all proof was truly objective, judges and juries wouldn't be needed.

"More likely than not" simply means anything with a probability of greater than 50 percent, even by just a little.  This reflects nature's effort to exceed the average. The test covers half the spectrum of probability and also reflects how the intuitive mind reaches conclusions.  Evidence is presented, but "feelings" one way or the other are used to describe our ultimate conclusion.

"Beyond a reasonable doubt" is a far stronger test. It means almost certain and requires substantial evidence, logic and nothing contrary that raises "reasonable doubt". Still, mistakes are made and innocent people are put to death.  Most convicted ARE guilty, but there are exceptions.

These are the same tests we unconsciously use to filter our experience.  If something makes sense, we find it more likely than not to be true.  We put it in the probable category and wait for more evidence.  Once we get multiple independent verification, we move beyond a reasonable doubt to conviction.  It's conviction that drives our action. But even after conviction we sometimes discover error. Does it make us more careful? Usually not. Generally we rationalize our action as based on bad data.  We blame someone else and move on.

Still, these two standards of truth are powerful tools and the best we have in critical thinking.  Keep them handy.  Weight the evidence.  Be ready to be wrong.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Your Body Is My Canvas

An excellent TED talk on how art evolves:

Alexa Meade Self Portrait

Your Body Is My Canvas

As Theodore Roethke implied, "Art is that which everything else isn't."