52 entries categorized "How Stuff Works"

Sweden Creates a 21st Century Electric Avenue

When I was young and we would descend on my grandparents for Thanksgiving, one of the main streets we traveled to get to their place was called "Electric Avenue." And we never failed to sing the Eddy Grant song chorus as we drove the last kilometre and pulled up to their door. The original "Electric Avenue" in the South London district of Brixton was a market street, the first such market street to be lit by electricity during the late 19th century.

Fast forward over a century later and Sweden has created their own Electric Avenue - but in this case, the road itself is electrified.


Sweden, as part of their national innovation strategy, is testing the efficacy of electrified roads. eRoadArlanda, a commercial company working with the Swedish Transport Administration and several other partners, has embedded an electric rail in a public road. When an appropriately equipped electric vehicle drives along the rail, an arm is lowered from the vehicle and makes contact with the rail. This transfers energy to the vehicle and keeps it moving as well as charging the onboard battery of the vehicle, eliminating the need to stop at a charging station.

eRoadArlanda's test is part of an overall plan by the Swedish Transport Administration to support the Swedish government's target of creating a fossil-free transportation infrastructure by 2030. Electrified-road transport is estimated to cut fossil fuel emissions by 80 to 90 percent.

What do you think? Would you drive an electric car along an electrified road? Is this a good option for reducing our fossil fuel emissions? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

- Rose R.

V2V Communications: How Car to Car Communication Can Save Lives


I was out walking the dog the other morning when I saw a car get T-boned at an intersection near my house. The driver was turning left as the light turned yellow and a driver coming from the other direction decided he would hit the gas to try to make the light. The result was a resounding crunch. Both drivers walked away unharmed but the left-turning driver’s car was totaled.

One of the most frustrating things about turning left at an intersection is not knowing if an oncoming car is going to slow down as the light turns yellow or if it’s just going to roar on through. Since front brake light technology doesn’t seem to have taken off, all you can really do is use your best judgment to make the turn safely. Wouldn’t it be great if your car could communicate with the oncoming car and see if it is actually slowing down?

That’s where vehicle to vehicle communications technology (V2V) comes in. V2V allows your car to communicate with the other cars around you, within a certain range, to allow you to take preventative action where necessary. V2V uses a WiFi-like technology called DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication), which allows cars to communicate directly with each other in real time.

With V2V, your left-turning car would be able to detect that an oncoming vehicle wasn’t slowing down, allowing you to brake. If a car three cars ahead of you on the highway suddenly brakes, your car will know about it before you even see it. If a vehicle with V2V ahead of you slips on wet pavement or ice , V2V can warn you about slippery road conditions ahead, so that you can slow down.

Check out this US Department of Transportation video for more about how V2V will work:

Obviously, V2V works best when all cars are equipped with the technology. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that collisions could be reduced by up to 80% once the technology is integrated into all cars and light duty trucks. In the US, a regulation has been proposed that would make V2V systems mandatory in all new vehicles as early as 2023 and if that regulation passes, it’s a good bet that Canada will follow suit.

Whether or not V2V technology becomes a mandatory safety feature, most auto manufacturers are planning to include the system in upcoming vehicles. Just this year, Cadillac made its V2V communication system standard in all Canadian and US models.

Personally, I’m excited at the advent of more V2V communications; not only is it a great advance in automotive safety, but it will also cut down on my yelling: “What are you DOING??” at other drivers.

What do you think? Would V2V be helpful to you as a driver? Let us know in the comments.

- Rose R.

Monitoring Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Space

Planet Earth, North America

Oil sands mining companies, like our parent company Suncor, annually report the CO2 and methane emissions from their tailings ponds. The current method uses a contraption called a "flux hood" which is floated onto the tailings pond to capture emissions. Operators measure the emissions in that chamber and then estimate the total number of emissions.

This method has a number of issues, including a significant degree of uncertainty in measurement, slow lag time between reporting and subsequent improvements, and even worker safety issues since measurements are conducted directly on the tailings ponds.

However, there may be a better way - one that improves the accuracy of the measurements, reduces reporting lag time, increases worker safety and potentially improves emissions reduction initiatives. A joint industry project with several COSIA (Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance), including Suncor, is testing the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from space using satellite technology.

A Quebec-based company, GHGSat, is working Suncor and our COSIA partners to measure emissions using a satellite named CLAIRE. CLAIRE is carrying a spectrometer which measures the concentration of gases like CO2 and methane. This video (EN only) explains how CLAIRE works.

GHGSat: Claire 640x480 from Stephane Germain on Vimeo.

CLAIRE launched on June 22 of this year and will be in orbit for at least a year. It will pass over Alberta's oil sands mining operations approximately every two weeks; when conditions are clear enough (estimated about 50% of the time), CLAIRE conducts the measurements and transmits the data back to earth for analysis and distribution to oil sands operators.

What do you think? Does this kind of GHG monitoring make sense? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.


Potholes, cobblestones and skidpads: Welcome to the Automotive Proving Grounds


We’ve all seen videos of automobile safety testing – most of them show airbags deploying to cushion crash test dummies as a car drives into a wall. But until this week, I’d never thought about the other, less spectacular-looking testing that car manufacturers conduct to make sure that our cars can stop before they hit that wall. Most of us spend our time on the road avoiding potholes, trying not to fishtail on wet roads and driving far slower than 190km/hr – but as I read in this article from Driving.ca, safety-testing a car in risky conditions is all in a day’s work for an automotive proving ground test driver. 

Automotive proving grounds are test facilities built by car manufacturers – places where they can push their vehicles to the limit in order to maximize their safety and reliability. In the early days of car manufacturing, vehicle testing was conducted on public roads, alongside regular traffic. But as the car became more popular and roads grew more congested, car manufacturers needed somewhere else to put their new models through their paces.

General Motors opened the world’s first automobile proving grounds in 1924 near Milford, Michigan. The original proving grounds were situated on 1,125 acres and included a 6.4 km gravel loop and a straightaway. Today, their proving grounds covers 4,000 acres and has several facilities, include the “Black Lake”, a pad of blacktop that can be spritzed with water and used to test vehicle dynamics. Here’s what the facility looks like today, from the air:

These days, most car manufacturers have their own proving grounds, designed to simulate every possible type of terrain you might encounter while driving. Test drivers are trained in advanced driving skills before tackling a wicked mix of terrains, conditions and speeds, all with the aim of compressing a lifetime’s worth of car abuse into just a few months. Gravel roads, skid pads and extreme off-road courses are a few of the terrains you’d find on any automotive proving ground. Ford recently laid down 50 miles of test tracks in their Lommel Proving Grounds in Belgium, dedicated to simulating potholes from 25 countries around the world – everything from the cobblestone streets of France to rutted intersections in China. 

These cars are rode hard and put away wet – literally, as driving through water helps to test the rust proofing on a vehicle’s undercarriage. Car manufacturers use the drivers’ feedback and their own analysis to improve their designs.

This hilarious, action-movie-trailer-style video from Volvo’s proving grounds in Hällered, Sweden highlights some of the different tests and terrains the vehicles – and test drivers – are subjected to in the name of car safety.

Compare that Volvo video with this footage about automotive proving grounds from the 1950s. Testing back then was more rudimentary but no less thorough!

The job of test driving looks like a lot of fun – but according to Kia test driver Howard Edmond, driving in rough conditions for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week can be a little monotonous – and can also be hard on the posterior.

Have you ever visited an automotive proving ground? Do you think test driving would be a good job? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.

New Haptic Gas Pedal Helps You Drive More Efficiently, Save on Fuel

Gas pedal

Two of the most effective ways to save on fuel (as listed in our Ways to Save on Fuel infographic) involve altering your driving style – lowering your highway speed and avoiding aggressive driving. Speeding, accelerating quickly and braking hard really take a toll on your fuel use. I know we all pledge daily that we’ll try to drive more carefully but it’s easy for your good intentions to go out the window during a frustrating commute. So…what if your gas pedal was an active participant in helping you alter your driving behaviour?

Enter Bosch’s new haptic feedback gas pedal. The word “haptic” is derived from a Greek word meaning “I touch” – “haptic” refers to any interactions that involve touch. We’re used to responding to haptic signals in our electronics, like when our phones vibrate, or even in our cars – in some vehicles, for example, the steering wheel vibrates when you’re drifting out of your lane. In Bosch’s “active gas pedal” design, your gas pedal would knock, vibrate or provide counterpressure to give you cues about how to adjust your driving in a variety of situations.

Bosch Active Gas Pedal
Photo: Bosch

Here’s how it works, according to Bosch:

“[…]The active gas pedal uses an internal connection to the navigation, powertrain, and driver assistance systems. On top of this, the pedal also uses external data, such as information from other vehicles or connected infrastructure, which is transmitted to the vehicle via the cloud. Based on this technology, the active gas pedal becomes a safety, gearshift, and coasting assistant that warns of a traffic jam behind a bend, flags unnecessarily high fuel consumption, or signals the switch to the internal combustion engine in hybrid vehicles. Warnings and indications are delivered by means of haptic signals that vary in kind and strength. This allows drivers to respond intuitively and adapt their driving style accordingly.”

Here’s the kicker – Bosch claims that following the prompts of the active gas pedal could potentially reduce your fuel consumption by up to 7%.

Bosch Active Gas Pedal
Photo: Bosch

This sounds like a pretty interesting idea – and if your car is communicating with you through your feet, driving shoes might come back into style! Then again, just plain ol’ driving in the city or on a busy highway can be a pretty sensory-overloading experience - I could see where an busy gas pedal might provide an excess of stimulation in an already tense situation.

What do you think about this gas pedal technology? Do you think a haptic gas pedal would be a helpful and intuitive way to encourage you to drive more carefully? Or would it just feel like another distraction in the car? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.