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Transportation Technology

Appropriate Tech, 300mpg Car Top 2008 Innovators 155

longacre writes "While some giggles were floating around about the irony of a Microsoft product (Photosynth) finding itself on the same top 10 products list as a toilet, the true stars of last night's annual Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards were innovations of far more consequence. MIT professor Amy B. Smith won the marquis Leadership Award for her work on building simple, low-cost technology to help developing countries. Joining Smith from the appropriate technology field were a group of CalTech students who created all-terrain wheelchairs for the disabled, and a Procter & Gamble exec who developed a water purifying powder for the third world. Aptera Vehicles founders Steve Ambro and Chris Anthony made the cut for their 300mpg Typ-1e, which is expected to hit showrooms by the end of this year. Other winners ranged from the Mars Phoenix Lander team, to the developers of a low-cost cancer test, to the creators of Spore."
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Appropriate Tech, 300mpg Car Top 2008 Innovators

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  • by GrpA ( 691294 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @12:11AM (#25408569)

    300mpg is impressive, but they stopped selling trike's for a reason ( and they now sell quad's in their place ).

    That trend with electric vehicles actually worries me, and I can't help but wonder at the safety implications.

    Is it really so difficult to keep the drag co-efficient down without losing the extra wheel?


    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @12:14AM (#25408593) Homepage Journal

      Single front-wheel trikes are dangerous. Single back-wheel trikes are pratically as stable as a four-wheeler.

      As a bonus, this one looks amazing (saw one in person this summer): []

      • by GrpA ( 691294 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @12:26AM (#25408655)

        I'd still question the stability. It depends on the location of the CoP, which can vary depending on the situation the vehicle finds itself in.

        Front-wheel trikes are succeptible to issues when braking (CoP moves forward) and turning (CoP moves to the side) at the same time.

        Under those circumstances, which are reasonably likely to occur, I agree with you on the configuration.

        However, under other circumstances involving stability and under high yaw (eg, braking causes the car to spin, etc, and with less traction on one rear tire than two) I'd still be fearful that the car would flip rather than slide - all that really needs to happen, IMO, is for the back-end to spin around to the front under braking.

        Plus you also have the issues related to contact surface area of the rear tire.

        I guess I'm talking about the kinds of positions you might find yourself in, that you learn to deal with in an advanced driving course, but whenever you go for three wheels, the first compromise is stability.

        The car does look nice though... Like a composite body aircraft cockpit - :)


        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tknd ( 979052 )
          Well I won't comment (I don't build cars and I am not a physicist) but here's an old clip [] of one of their first prototypes being driven around the parking lot.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by umghhh ( 965931 )

          Can you use it to transport a family (2+2) to/from shopping?

          Other than that it is a nice development.

          • by electrictroy ( 912290 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @04:59AM (#25409785)

            Why do you need to take your whole family shopping? Can't you buy your Rice Krispies by yourself? ;-) And even if you needed to take the whole family, then you can just take two cars. Mom and kid in the Aptera; dad and kid in the other. The combined 150 mpg is still a LOT better than the average 20mpg SUV.

            Very few people need to carry a Ford Living Room everywhere they go.

            For those wanting four wheels, Volkswagen will soon have a 1L/100km (240mpg) car.

            • by Corporate Troll ( 537873 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @07:17AM (#25410433) Homepage Journal

              For those wanting four wheels, Volkswagen will soon have a 1L/100km (240mpg) car.

              [Citation needed]

              If you refer to this [], it seats two and is hardly by any definition something that seats a whole family. (Not that you claimed that, but somehow it seemed implied) It'll be there in 2010 in limited numbers... Read: "expensive" (It says 20k€ to 30k€ in the wikipedia article)

              I don't object with your post, just with that statement. We're far from there.

              Also note that a 3L/100km car [] was in production for years but was scrapped because of low sales :-/

            • Why do you need to take your whole family shopping?

              Don't have children do you...

            • Mom and kid in the Aptera; dad and kid in the other. The combined 150 mpg is still a LOT better than the average 20mpg SUV.

              Right, since they're going to burn the fuel to drive the 20mpg SUV they might as well take a second vehicle as well.

              They'll burn more gas that way, but hey, at least they can brag that their combined average is over 100MPG!

            • by armb ( 5151 )

              > Volkswagen will soon have a 1L/100km (240mpg) car

              They already have one as a technology demonstrator, they promise a production model soon:


            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Rolgar ( 556636 )

              So one parent can't go anywhere with both kids unless the other parent goes also, and what about families with three kids?

              As for shopping, if the wife can't take the kids to the store during the day, she has to hire a baby sitter. Instead, taking the children shopping is an excellent teaching opportunity, so they can learn how to behave in public and how to shop within a budget just to name two.

            • Why do you need to take your whole family shopping? Can't you buy your Rice Krispies by yourself? ;-) And even if you needed to take the whole family, then you can just take two cars. Mom and kid in the Aptera; dad and kid in the other. The combined 150 mpg is still a LOT better than the average 20mpg SUV.

              Spoken like a true single-person with no kids. It's generally frowned upon to leave the little ones unsupervised. From 8-12 years of age you have a window where they might do okay by themselves, but after

            • by sjames ( 1099 )

              Or, for that matter, most families have 2 cars. Why should mom and dad both drive a land yacht to work every day? If they instead own one land yacht for family outings and one two seater for work commutes they do better on average for gas in a week and still have a family car.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Webcommando ( 755831 )

            Can you use it to transport a family (2+2) to/from shopping?

            I'm definitely into letting someone else do the hauling these days...

            - Dairy delivery to my door (Oberweiss)
            - Peapod delivery of Groceries
            - Schwan's delivery for other tasty items. They have the best bacon.

            Actually helps minimize the impulse buying in the store. Otherwise, you do need to be able to haul your family for many purposes. This car will be a great commuter so you can leave the mini-van home unless needed.

            • by umghhh ( 965931 )

              Well that was just the most obvious example. I understand that such a vehicle would be an excellent commuter but I rarely drive our family car to work (yes I use the bus/train/bike solution depending on whether and how I feel that day) still I see plenty of uses for a family car at least as long as the kids live with us. As I am not going to buy a second car (I see no need) that is pretty much it for me. I am sure there are potential customers for such product and we need it for making the technologies used

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Rei ( 128717 )

            If you absolutely need more than 2+1 seating (i.e., you're only going to have one car and/or rarely have anyone in the household who travels by themselves or with one adult and one small child), then you're right; it's not for you. However, a huge portion of the American population is not in that situation. It's sad watching a hummer going down the freeway carrying only the driver. What a waste.

            If you do need more than 2+1 seating, not only are there many other EVs coming out from other manufacturers in

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Well, Morgan used to make a 3 wheel sports car, and they used to be able to lap Brooklands at over a ton (all power from a big twin bike engine).

          The configuration's still available today - here's a video [] of an old Moggie and a Grinnall Scorpion being let out to play.

          Pretty stable, no?

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @12:26AM (#25408657) Homepage

        Quite true, so long as the CoM is positioned just behind the front wheels. When braking, that puts the CG directly between the front wheels. You're left with the same resistance to rollover, but you have a lower moment of inertia, so it's more responsive. Also, with two wheels at front steering, just like in a normal car, you have similar tendancy toward understeer rather than the extreme oversteer of "delta" trikes.

        There was a good article from Road and Track in May 1982 where they tested various configurations; there's excerpts here [].

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bhsx ( 458600 )
        A friend of mine has one, I've ridden it. It's a fantastic machine. I think he said he paid $19k for it. He sold his '86 BMW with a side car to get it. Really, Really amazing bike (do we still call it a 'bike'?)!
      • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @03:44AM (#25409467)
        We old guys remember the Aero Morgan - a three wheeler with a V-twin light aircraft engine at the front and a single rear wheel. In those days there was no front wheel drive, so it was far less advanced than the Aptera. They used to race these things, in Germany no less, and seeing a whole lot of them going through bends at over 100mph was a slightly worrying sight, but fun. Nowadays you may see one in the UK out on a rare sunny day. The point is, although very niche, they were a well proven design which attracted a devoted following. The Aptera might well do the same.
        • I think the ones you see nowadays are replicas - I used to know a guy who had one. Based on a Citroes 2CV IIRC due to the low cost, light weight & ladder chassis.
        • by Whiteox ( 919863 )

          Opening scenes of The Party ( which has got to be one of the funniest movies) has Peter Sellers driving one.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by interploy ( 1387145 )

        As a bonus, this one looks amazing (saw one in person this summer): []

        That car looks suspiciously like a motorcycle.

        I agree though it certainly beats out the Type-1e in the looks department. I don't understand why new-tech people insist on making such horrendously ugly vehicles. If they actually made them look like traditional cars they may have a chance of catching on.

        I get that the design helps them achieve 300mpg, but seriously, no one is going to drive a Type-1e on a highway. It looks like it'd crumple like tin foil.

      • Can-Am Spyder (Score:3, Informative)

        by suggsjc ( 726146 )
        As a Spyder owner, I can attest that it is a very stable vehicle. It has several safety features (warning: flash site) [] namely its VSS (Vehicle Stability System) that makes sure you can't/don't high side it like conventional trikes.

        Its a first generation vehicle, but its been developed for around 10 years and minus a few minor complaints they totally hit a home run! I can confidently say that I am very happy with my purchase. But I must warn you, don't buy one unless you really like attention because ev
    • i don't really see trikes as a trend with electric vehicles. there are trike gas-powered vehicles as well, just as there are electric bikes, quads, cars, and trucks.

      i think companies that sell/develop electric vehicles tend to be more innovative and like to experiment with alternate vehicle designs/technologies. so perhaps that's why you've seen more electric trikes in proportion to four-wheel electrics than with gas-powered vehicles. but there's no direct link between electric propulsion and three-wheeled

      • by TheLink ( 130905 )
        I'm curious - how do you fix a punctured wheel on an Aptera?
        • You just pick it up and carry it home.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mollymoo ( 202721 )
          Old Citroens used to have covered rear wheels, to change them you just jack the car up and the wheel drops (relative to the car) enough for access. Looking at the Aptera the wheels are too deep for that, so I guess there must be access panels.
    • The picture of the #1 item on the list - the toilet looks like[1] one I had in my apartment in Tokyo almost 10 years ago. WTF? Is this a joke, or have people really gotten that insular and stupid in the US?

      [1] It does not have the control panel to flush water up your ass after pooping nor heat the toilet seat like Japanese toilets did back then the "innovative" water thingy looks identical.

      • Almost 10 years?

        When I was a kid I bought this old book from one of those "old book sales" that was printed in 1977 called "How Things Don't Work"[1] and it was about bad and good designs. Quite a good book.

        If I recall correctly they mentioned a toilet design just like the one shown in Popular Mechanics. So that's a design that must be more than 30 years old. I might go look for that book again, just to see how little designs have improved over 30 years.

        The Japanese toilets are in a totally different league

        • by kabz ( 770151 )
          Try using the bathroom after a curry, in a tiny Japanese apartment[1] with paper thin walls. Or any flat/apartment constructed in the last 10 years.
          • by TheLink ( 130905 )
            I've heard rumours that apparently if you even sneeze and say excuse me, your Japanese neighbour will say "It's ok, I didn't hear that".

            So no problem there. :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      You might have to make a safety compromise and learn to drive it properly. Even so, my fiance's 50cc Honda Metropolitan gets around 100mpg with a top speed of 40mph. My dual sport 250cc Kawasaki Super Sherpa gets around 70mpg at 40mph with the stock tires on pavement and has a top speed near 70mph. Not having to worry about being visible to other drivers and the fatigue caused by poor weather would be a huge improvement also. Unfortunately I don't see this requiring a motorcycle endorsement or similar in or
    • It doesn't get 300 mpg. It gets a more reasonable, (and still quite impressive) 130 mpg. Why people feel the need to inflate mileage with "free" electricity in the hybrid parts is quite a mystery to me.

      To properly gauge you have to take a holistic approach to these things: what is it's "miles per dollar."

    • by steevc ( 54110 )

      Not really 300mpg as it's electric with a range of 120 miles. TFA says they may do a hybrid that does 130mpg (US I assume). Not too bad. If you want 4 wheels and better economy then the Loremo looks cool if it ever gets into production []

      As for safety, the US has issues if their fatality rate is x3 the UK one []

    • 300mpg - and then they compare it to a Prius ...

        The Prius can transport your whole family - this cannot

      They quote the Prius as the exemplar of low drag coefficient - but most small cars have a lower drag coefficient than the prius, and better fuel economy and can still carry 4 people!

      This car is very pretty and fuel efficient - but not a practical proposition for most people (and people who buy SUV's will never even consider it ...)

      • The Prius can transport your whole family - this cannot

        It can move two adults and a kid, which accounts for a fair number of families. Indeed, that covers every family until they have a second child or the kid gets too big for the rear seat.

        • by Abreu ( 173023 )

          Sorry, but "Family Car" assumes room for at least 4 adults.

          When you buy a car you expect it to fit your family's needs for more than just a year or two.

          • When you buy a car you expect it to fit your family's needs for more than just a year or two.

            Only if you buy a family car in the first place. The Aptera isn't marketed as a family car, so your concern about expectations not being met only applies to idiots.

    • Having three wheels apparently means that it gets legally classified as a motorcycle so they don't have to meet all the same legal requirements cars do for emissions, crash tests, etc. (although they are doing car-type safety/crash tests anyway)
    • From TFA, along with the obligatory suggestion to RTFA before writing the headline/summary: (my emphasis below)

      The company is launching the all-electric Typ-1e with a 120-mile range and a recharge time of 8 hours. Next year, it plans to follow up with a plug-in hybrid, the Typ-1h, which should get 300 mpg for the first 120 miles and never go less than 130 miles on a gallon of gas.

    • Well, it would be impressive if it didn't cost $27,000+ for a two-seater.

      And if it weren't designed to be "comfortable" only for people shorter than I am. When someone says it's comfortable for someone up to 6'1", they really mean 5'10", in my experience. And even if they really meant 6'1", that's a bit shy of how long I am.

      Basically, it's a nice tech-toy, of no practical value to your average person. Note that your "average person" doesn't have a lot of use for a car that you can't carry your family i

      • Note that your "average person" doesn't have a lot of use for a car that you can't carry your family in [...]

        Where "average person" excludes single people, couples with one small child and couples with no children (or no children living with them) - as a rough guess, you've excluded half the car buying public from you definition of "average person".

  • Tank Size (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 17, 2008 @12:17AM (#25408611)

    If you bother to read the blurb for the Aptera, you'll see the 300mpg claim is for a fully charged hybrid.

    Unfortunately there was no information on how many gallons of electricity it holds.

    • by DAldredge ( 2353 )
      .02 Library of Congresses worth.
    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      10kWh. We don't know the depth of discharge on the pack, though. The Aptera Typ-1e is rated for 120 miles at 55mph and 70 miles at 80mph. The electric range of the Typ-1h is to be between 40 and 60 miles, depending on driving style. But of course, only the Typ-1e currently exists.

      And of course, it's not really 300mpg, as you noted. In steady-state highway driving, the Typ-1h's "charge-sustaining" mileage is to be 130mpg. I hate these bogus PHEV mileage numbers, but they all play that game. It's looki

      • I agree, and further I think all the PHEV companies are shooting their market/cash cow in the foot by producing such ridiculous and deceptive marketting.

        If you're going to measure battery power, why claim mpg at all? Why not just say you have 30000 mpg, or 3000000000 mpg or infinite mpg? Are any of these untrue?

    • They really do need to come up with better metrics for hybrid cars, as it is always strikes me as crazy when they specify city mileage greater than highway mileage. Maybe mpg+wh, miles per gallon plus watt-hours, where watt-hours are the watt-hours in the battery at the beginning of the ride minus the watt-hours in the battery at the end of the drive. I guess the problem with this is it would require accurate battery charge measurement, which seems to have been an elusive to this point.
    • I don't have the link, but in the literature or on the forums somewhere there's a curve of the "efficiency" of the hybrid. The curve is asymptotic at about 110-120mpg, which would be your gasoline-only efficiency. Even with gas prices coming down a bit, the plug-in portion is still a fantastic economic deal compared to gasoline. The 10kWh battery will get you nearly 80 miles at real highway speeds, that's about $0.75 in electricity for me. And compared to the 13mpg I get around town in my F150, it's quite

  • I swear, Microsoft must be paying millions to promote Photosynth through teh grassrootz. It's absolutely hilarious to watch my friends who are Mac fangirls complain about how IE sucks, MS is going down the tubes, etc. but when it gets to PHOTO-freaking-synth, NOW we're talking. I get Photosynth Youtube videos and TED talks and all this made-for-hype stuff in my inbox and yet the coolest projects I see are again and again made by people who don't have money to promote their stuff.
  • TFA mentions that it's 130 mpg after the initial charge of the batteries is drained. The 300 mpg claim hides the electrical energy that's put into the car, as if that's free. I appreciate that specifying fuel consumption is complex for a plug-in hybrid, but this type of claim is just plain lying.

    • by dAzED1 ( 33635 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @02:51AM (#25409287) Journal
      full charge costs between $1-2 (depending on electricity costs in your area), and will take you 200 miles. And the 130 isn't representative either; on long term trips with no stopping, the mileage goes up from there (though not to 300). On short trips, you're mostly electric. If you burn out the charge and aren't just cruising, then yeah...mileage goes down fast. But last I checked, $1 of gas couldn't take you 200 miles anyway...

      "lying" is a bit of a mis-statement.

      • I'd go with lying; 300mpg implies that the car can go 1500 miles on its 5 gallon tank. It won't even go half that far, so the claimed fuel economy is patently untrue and intended explicitly to mislead - it's a lie. Play with words if you like but it sure sounds like "an untruth spoken with the intention to deceive" to me.

        What, exactly, does that 300mpg figure represent? Is that how far you can drive a fully-charged Aptera with one gallon of gas in the tank? Is is the economy you get on standard tests with a

    • I agree this has a real slimey feel. GM is pushing EPA to change the rules to make this kind of misleading statement a standard rating for PHEVs so the can claim the volt gets 100mpg even though it is 40 miles electric + maybe 50 miles on a gallon of gas.

      It does nothing to help the consumer and only confuses.

  • by John Jamieson ( 890438 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @02:32AM (#25409213)

    While this car is impressive, I think the car designed in 1999 and going on sale in a year and a bit is much more amazing.

    Just think, the pres of VW got 317 miles per (imperial) gallon driving this thing to a press conference. This is without any batteries or hybrid tech.

    I would be happy with a runabout that achieved just half of that.

    Below are links if you have not read about it yet. [] []

  • by Elias Ross ( 1260 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @02:44AM (#25409259) Homepage

    I remember in Japan for many years seeing toilets with spigots at the top of the tank, not to mention dual flush, heated seats, and no need for paper, thanks to a water spray and air dryer. So I'd hardly call it a breakthrough product.

    It's the 21st century and we're still rubbing our ass cracks with dead trees.

  • Not 300 mpg, it is 300 mpg + 8hr recharge. How much is the electricity costing you and polluting? Passing the buck to the power plant doesn't solve the problem. Some econazis get all in your face saying "I'm carbon neutral look at my electric car" etc etc, fail to realize they just pushed the carbon over to the power plant. Centralizing production makes it easier to control, but doesn't necessary mean that it is being controlled, aka China's electricity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hAckz0r ( 989977 )
      You make a good point, but there are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint on this planet and this car could help. I would propose having a solar grid-tied system at home which supplies power to the utilities during the day when you are at work and then recharging the car at home while you are there. The power company is still generating CO2 but your usage is offset for a net result of zero emissions during the course of the day.

      As for the basic economics of going all-electric with this one I ran som

      • Cool. Good job with the math. Electric vehicles tend to cost a bit more upfront for similarly equipped models but your calculations seem to show that at least for operating costs it makes sense.

        Supplying power back to the grid: it is a good idea and has been around for a while. It is being done in some areas but is definitely technically complicated and expensive. It requires large capacitors or some other way of storing the energy so adds cost to the system. Things like solar are a pain in that sense bec

  • MPG? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by VincenzoRomano ( 881055 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @05:36AM (#25409917) Homepage Journal
    If you want to show how good an autovehicle performs in terms of ecology, please provide these numbers:

    1. Kg of CO2 emitted to produce one
    2. Kg of CO2 emitted to run one for 100 Km
    3. Kg of CO2 emitted to fully dispose one

    Anything else is just buzzword and advertisement!
  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Friday October 17, 2008 @06:02AM (#25410037) Homepage Journal

    The mixture includes flocculants, which cause suspended solids, heavy metals and parasites to clump together. The resulting "floc" can then be filtered out with a cotton cloth. Time-released chlorine kills bacteria and viruses. Within 30 minutes, about a teaspoon of the powder can treat 2.5 gal. of water. "The visual improvement is dramatic," says Eric Mintz, chief of the CDC's diarrheal diseases and epidemiology section.

    A flying car would not even compare to this, not even a flying car that gets 300 miles per gallon. Having grown up with Star Trek (original series) this too me is the closest to Star Trek I have seen. A powder to make water safe. Screw that silly looking three wheeler, this helps the world far more than any vehicle.

    I was very surprised not to be able to find mention of it on Wikipedia, even under []

    It apparently never made it big in the news which is a disappointment, hopefully this "award" will give it its due

  • Have the editors not been to Japan? Even though toilet sinks are not in public bathrooms, they're a common installation in home bathrooms.

    Even with my non-existent plumbing skills, it's not that difficult of a hack. Maybe this is a job for Joe . . .

  • It's Fambro, not Ambro, and the typ-1e is electric. The typ-1h is the hybrid.

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.