With the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) having been held in Las Vegas in early January, InnovOil looks past the flash to pick up some of the most interesting technology on display
Hyundai Cradle revealed a concept mockup of its walking car, the Elevate, at CES 2019.
Hyundai’s concept videos show Elevate as a four-seat vehicle with four electrically powered wheels on the ends of multi-angled and multi-hinged legs. This will allow the Elevate to step across uneven ground, as each leg and wheel turns and pivots independently and at different angles. A 66 kWh battery should give three or four hours operation on a charge.
While the concept looks very capable, Hyundai’s actual progress to date looks more prosaic. The company’s current latest video shows a small (and wobbly) test-bed about the size of a small ride-on mower. It looks as if there are 5-7 years of development work ahead to reach the same capabilities that Hyundai’s animated movies demonstrate.
Elevate will be able to roll like a traditional vehicle with various degrees of ground clearance depending on leg extension. It will also articulate its legs to walk like an animal, crossing a five-foot wall or a five-foot gap by stepping over it. Walking motion will be high-aspect (think horse) or low-aspect (think lizard).
On the highway Elevate will have near-automotive capability, though for short ranges. Hyundai is claiming a degree of autonomy, but it is unclear how far that has progressed from the lab.
Another planned Elevate capability is to keep its cab or load level on difficult terrain. This feature means that Elevate could be used to move highly sensitive or delicate cargo safely (though we have struggled to think of an application for that, other than extreme casevac).
It may be that Elevate becomes useful for moving sensitive equipment on-site in place of a helicopter lift. We would see most of Elevate’s capabilities in the military sphere, where it can replace expensive and highly visible helicopter movements, with supplies going one way and casualties the other.
In the oil industry we can see that Elevate might find an oil application in a seismic campaign, lifting equipment to otherwise inaccessible locations without the need for a helicopter.
However, Hyundai’s announcement looks to be well in advance of its actual progress.
NASA has invested US$2 million into a Goddard Space Flight Centre team that is developing 3D-printed sensors. The funds will be used to developed smaller spectrometers to be mounted on a platform measuring around 5 cm by 7.5 cm.
The sensors will be created using the Nanoscale Offset Printing System. This technique uses an etched template that is dipped into a well of “ink,” made up of dissolved nanoparticles, nanotubes, polymers or other nano-elements. When an electric current is passed through the fluid, the nanomaterials stick to the etched part of template and create a circuit board.
By using this combination of 3D printing and nanomaterials, a suite of sensors can be printed at once onto a single platform. At present, sensors are built one a time before being integrated with other components.
Each sensor will be used to detect parts per billionth concentrations of a specific chemical target. NASA is aiming at life-makers ammonia, water and methane. Sensors will also detect temperature and pressure and be mounted on planetary rovers or on spacesuits to monitor astronauts’ health and safety.
The Goddard team will spend the next two years developing the technology, in part testing the sensitivity of different sensor materials.
Scientists at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University have devised a cleaner process to produce ammonia.
World ammonia production is dominated by the Haber-Bosch process, applied in large oil refineries. Haber Bosch is energy intensive, operating at 2,000 psi and 400 °C. Case Western’s technique produces ammonia from nitrogen and water at low temperature and low pressure and without catalysis.
The new technique uses a plasma and a supply of solvated electrons (basically free electrons) to induce nitrogen to bond with hydrogen atoms from water at atmospheric temperatures and pressures. At present the energy equation is more intense than Haber Bosch, as the process requires a substantial power input. Experiments so far have been limited to bench tests.
CO2 to power
A team from South Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology have tested a system that converts CO2 to electricity and hydrogen using a metallic sodium anode.
A two part cell is set up, divided by a membrane. In one side a metallic sodium anode sits in an organic solvent. On the other side of the sodium membrane a cathode sits in plain water.
CO2 is bubbled through the water side, where it combines with sodium cations transported across the membrane and with water to form sodium bicarbonate. This process displaces a hydrogen nucleus. An electrical connection across the cell brings the spare electron from the ionised sodium atom to the hydrogen nucleus, which then forms gaseous hydrogen. The process naturally forms a current between the cells.
While chemically elegant (bad CO2 is sequestered, good hydrogen and power are produced) the process has a significant flaw – a single molecule of CO2 (molecular weight 48) requires one atom of metallic sodium (molecular weight 23). World annual production of metallic sodium is around 100,000 tonnes, while world emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels are around 36 billion tonnes.
Hence the two universities’ description of this process as a contribution to carbon sequestration is somewhat optimistic, but the process is interesting nonetheless.