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Electric is to vehicles what digital is to business

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The launch of the second generation Nissan Leaf electric vehicle signals the auto equivalent of digitalising business, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Businesses are besieged with warnings that they will not survive if they do not become digital organisations. That means ripping out traditional structures, styles and processes of business, and preparing for a world in which information flow is at the heart of operational activity.

The same thing is about to happen in the automobile industry, but replacing the word “digital” with “electric”. One after another, governments are beginning to set target dates for reduced or even zero emissions from new vehicles. Car brands have to change, or vanish.

However, merely replacing a petrol-driven vehicle with an electric version is the business equivalent of making digital versions of company documents and little more. By not adapting the way the business operates, this “digitisation” creates greater inefficiency by duplicating rather than replacing processes.

So it is with the electric vehicle (EV): merely putting these on the road without changing the ecosystem within which they operate, they have little impact on the environment, or on lifestyles. For this reason, numerous EVs that have taken to the road over the past 70 years have vanished not only from the roads, but also from our memories.

Suddenly, that is changing. The success of two brands – the Tesla and the Nissan Leaf – has acted as an On button for an EV revolution.

Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

Tesla is still primarily an American brand, with a network of charging stations focused on California but beginning to spread across the country. Nissan has it heartland in Japan, where charging stations are almost as common as petrol stations. In South Africa, only a few dozen charging stations dot the country.

Globally, however, Nissan is leading the charge. The Leaf is the world’s best-selling EV, with around 300 000 sold in six years of production. That doesn’t sound like much, given that Nissan sold 5.63-million vehicles in total last year. However, it is becoming clear that the first generation Leaf was as much a proof of concept as a pioneering vehicle.

It’s by no means the first EV in production. That legacy belongs to the 1947 Tama, built in a post-war era when oil was scarce and electricity plentiful in Japan. With a top speed of 35km/h and a range of 96km, it was used mainly as a taxi for the next three years. The 1950 Korean war brought with it an oil boom, and electric vehicles became little more than a fanciful notion. Tama’s manufacturer, Tokyo Electro Automobile, became Prince Motors, and then merged with Nissan in 1966.

It was only in the 1990s that the conceot became viable again, when Nissan and Sony jointly developed the first Lithium-ion battery that could be used in a car. In 1997, it debuted in the Prairie Joy EV, which is famed for having been used for Japan’s Arctic Envoronment Research Centre at the North Pole for six years without a mechanical hitch.

An advanced version of that battery was built into the 2000 Hypermini, used for the world’s first vehicle-sharing trials in Yokohama and Ebina. The trials proved the utility of electric vehicles in urban areas, and persuaded Nissan to proceed with development of the Leaf.

Last week, the second generation Leaf was unveiled in Tokyo, highlighting both the evolution of EVs and of the thinking behind their role in urban environment.

Nissan Leaf charging

Nissan Leaf charging

The specs are, of course, the key selling point of the vehicle, and no spec is more important, at this stage in EV history, than range.  The limited range of many EVs has even resulted in a new phrase – “range anxiety” – to describe the stress people feel when they think their vehicle will run out of power before they reach a charging station.

That term may soon be considered quaint. Nissan has more than doubled the range of the Leaf, to 400km from less than 200km. This has required a more dense battery, which takes a little longer to charge than the previous version: 14 hours when plugged into a normal power outlet at home or work, compared to 12 hours before, and 40 minutes at a fast-charge station, compared to 30 minutes before. The trade-off for longer range will be welcomed.

At last week’s world premiere of the new Leaf, however, such improvements had equal billing to Nissans EV philosophy. Its thinking is framed in the concept of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which rests on three pillars: Intelligent Power, Intelligent Driving and Intelligent Integration.

Daniele Schillaci, executive vice president for global marketing and sales at Nissan, summed up the pillars at the premiere:

“The first pillar is Nissan Intelligent Driving, which gives our customers more confidence through safety, control and comfort. This includes our development of autonomous drive technologies and advanced driving systems.

“The second pillar is Nissan Intelligent Power, which makes the drive more exciting but also cleaner and more efficient. This includes zero-emission and electrification technologies.

“The third pillar is Nissan Intelligent Integration, which connects our vehicles to our wider society.”

The Leaf’s autonomous technology, ProPILOT, is likely to capture headlines for bringing the self-driving vehicle closer to reality.

ProPILOT Assist technology, will be available to customers later this year. ProPILOT Assist reduces the hassle of stop-and-go driving by helping control acceleration, braking and steering during single-lane highway driving.

ProPILOT Assist technology, will be available to customers later this year. ProPILOT Assist reduces the hassle of stop-and-go driving by helping control acceleration, braking and steering during single-lane highway driving.

“Once activated, ProPILOT can  automatically control the steering, acceleration, and brakes using a speed preset by the driver,” said Hideyuki Sakamoto, executive vice president for product engineering. “It is a single-lane autonomous driving technology that you can use on highways.

“The ProPILOT park controls every operation required for parking including acceleration, braking, shifting, turning the steering wheel and applying the parking brake.

“The combination of the world’s first four omnidirectional cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors enables you to park precisely wherever you wish in just three steps, at a press of your finger.”

However, it is Intelligent Integration which truly sets the Leaf apart from its growing roster of competitors.

N1216_LEAF_infographic2000px

It incorporates vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-home systems that allow the car to feed power back into the electricity grid, or to keep a home’s lights and appliances on during a power outage. In Nissan’s hometown of Yokohama, near Tokyo, it is being integrated into city planning.

The future potential is for smart buildings, smart homes and smart cars not only to talk to each other, but also to coordinate resources between them, automatically. Because it extends beyond the car and can have a massive impact on the urban environment at large, intelligent mobility may well represent an even bigger lifestyle shift than self-driving cars. The EV represents the beginning of that shift.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

2017 Nissan LEAF specifications (Japan model)

Specifications for other regions will be announced at the start of sales.

Exterior 
Overall length (mm) 4,480
Overall width (mm) 1,790
Overall height (mm) 1,540
Wheelbase (mm) 2,700
Track width front/rear (mm) 1,530-1,540/1,545-1,555
Minimum ground clearance (mm) 150
Coefficient of drag (Cd) 0.28
Tires 205/55R16 or 215/50R17
Cargo area (VDA) 435 L
Weight/capacity (kg)
Curb weight 1,490-1,520
Capacity 5 passenger
Gross vehicle weight 1,765-1,795
Battery
Type Li-ion battery
Capacity 40 kWh
Electric motor
Name EM57
Maximum output 110 kW (150 ps)/3283~9795 rpm
Maximum torque 320 N・m (32.6 kgf・m)/0~3283 rpm
Performance
Cruising range 400 km (JC08)
Charging time (normal charging) 16 hours (3 kW)
8 hours (6 kW)
Charging time from alert to 80% (quick charging) 40 minutes

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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