Tag Archives: fuel

Do android sheep dream of electric grass?

sheepThe current obsession for the military robotics crowd appears to be solving the long-term fuelling issue – after all, your ‘bot isn’t much use if it has to return to base every six hours for a fresh battery (possibly leading the enemy to your emplacement in the process).

So, an autonomous robot needs to be able to forage for fuel; while the art world has gone so far as to produce robots that eat insects and animals, the military contractors are keeping things strictly vegetarian, designing the cutely-monikered EATR to graze like a sheep on biomass.

Robotic Technology of Potomac, Md., and Cyclone Power Technologies of Pompano Beach, Fla., have completed an initial stage in a collaboration that could lead to the world’s first grazing robot. The system would obtain energy by “engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy-harvesting behavior”–in other words, foraging and eating to keep itself going.

It’s a tall order. The robot will need to first identify a suitable biomass (wood, grass, paper, etc.) and avoid the indigestible (rocks, metal, or glass). It must spatially locate and manipulate the source; cut or shred to size, then use its robotic arm and “end effectors” to grab, lift and dump it into the furnace, where it will be ingested and converted to enough electrical energy to power the robots systems. This stage is taken care of by the Cyclone engine, a modern-day external combustion, steam engine that can run on virtually any fuel.

I wonder if there’ll be a desert variant designed to survive for long periods without any biomass – an electric camel, perhaps? Mash up the fuelling tech with that scary yet awesome Big Dog pack-animal bot and you’ve got a new ship of the desert that (hopefully) won’t spit at you when it’s in a bad mood… [via Technovelgy; image by David Masters]

Oil rigs are vulnerable to hacking

oil rigIt shouldn’t come as a huge surprise – after all, anything that uses networked computing is at risk without the proper precautions – but independent researchers have declared oil rigs to be extremely vulnerable to hacking attempts.

While oil companies have made huge improvements in offshore safety and environmental protection, their efforts to secure important data have been poor, the SINTEF team says.

The group says that the current “integrated operations” model, which uses onshore workers to control processes carried out on the platform via networked PCs, leaves communications open to attack.

According to Science Daily, the team interviewed “key personnel in the petroleum sector” to get a sense of the data protection measures currently in place. The interviewees confirmed “that the number of safety incidents on production systems (platforms) has risen during past few years.”

Researchers said that hackers have already made their presence felt on oil platforms.

The worst-case scenario, of course, is that a hacker will break in and take over control of the whole platform,” says SINTEF scientist, Martin Gilje Jaatun. “Luckily, this has not happened yet, but we have heard of a number of incidents that could have turned into something quite dramatic. For example, virus attacks have led to process electronic equipment becoming unstable.

Frankly I’m surprised there haven’t been any major incidents so far, but it’s safe to assume that the inevitable resurgence of oil prices (not to mention the increasingly politicised nature of the fossil fuel industry) will make unmanned rigs into highly appealing target for hackers interested in protest or profit. [image by ccgd]

In fact, the profit motive is probably the stronger of the two… profit, or the prospect of free fuel. Any terrorist group or pirate nation looking for a ready source of the black gold would find it easy enough to hire some disaffected code-kiddie, then pay (or threaten) them enough to get them to bypass the security on an unmanned rig and then fiddle the telemetry for long enough to allow a physical invasion of the platform. Hey presto – a big base in offshore waters with all the oil you could ask for, and a target that even a major government is going to think twice about simply bombing to smithereens

From bottles to bricks – recycling plastics into architecture

POLLI-brick - recycled plastic architectural componentOne of the less-feted stars of this year’s CES was the POLLI-Brick, an example of how recycling might be used to make something useful. The POLLI-Brick is an oddly-shaped plastic building block which…

… features a unique interlocking cylindrical shape and […] is created from around four recycled PET plastic bottles. The shape incorporates a great deal of air; thereby providing the thermal and sound insulation.

Besides their potential use as architectural components, they can be fitted with LED lamps in their cavities to provide mood lighting, or be used as plant pots. All good stuff, for sure – I’m all for reusing stuff we usually throw away -but one can’t help but feel that they’re going to look rather unfashionable rather fast, like last season’s rave club decor. Few things age as badly (and obviously) as architecture. [image borrowed from linked GizMag article]

And while we’re on the subject of recycling… oil prices may be low again at the moment, but they’re unlikely to stay that way forever. The prudent person plans ahead… so maybe you’d be interested in step-by-step instructions for converting your Honda Accord to run on organic trash, a bit like the Mr Fusion unit on the Back to the Future Dolorian? [via MetaFilter]

Energy doesn’t grow on trees. Except in Patagonia, maybe.

The natural world still has plenty of surprises waiting for us, it seems. Scientists have discovered a Patagonian rainforest fungus that produces something pretty close to diesel by consuming cellulose:

The fungus, called Gliocladium roseum and discovered growing inside the ulmo tree (Eucryphia cordifolia) in northern Patagonia, produces a range of hydrocarbon molecules that are virtually identical to the fuel-grade compounds in existing fossil fuels.

Of course, burning the stuff is going to do as much environmental harm as the oil-based equivalent, but if they can scale up the process it might be an attractive renewable alternative to making fuels from dwindling oil supplies or otherwise useful food crops.

Is Peak Oil a lie?

Alaskan oil pipeline at PaxsonI’m going to shamelessly crib from io9 and link to the Cleantech Group’s write-up of a talk by an environmental futurist named Peter Schwartz, because he has a pretty provocative point to make. In a nutshell – Peak Oil is a lie, and it’s a lie that could make things worse rather than better.

Peak oil is wrong. We really don’t know how much oil there is in most of the oil reservoirs of the world. Oil reservoirs are complex geological structures, and most of the data is in private hands, or in state governments, and they are not particularly forthcoming about how much is there.

However, he’s far from denying that climate change is a problem:

We are not going to run out of oil before the issue of climate change drives change. It’ll be costly oil. But it’ll be climate change catastrophes [such as sudden, unexpected displacement of large numbers of people, and massive property damage], and more expensive oil, not the fact that we’re running out of oil, that will drive change

Of course, Schwartz is just one man, and an awful lot of people seem to be pretty convinced that Peak Oil is real, so I can’t argue that either way because I don’t have the knowledge or evidence to do so. But it’s interesting (and refreshing) to hear someone deny Peak Oil without denying climate change at the same time. [image by Steve Deger]