An anniversary and an iCar

February 20, the day of my birth. That’s right, I made it another year! And while grats are great and a poor guy like me would never turn down a birthday shekel or two sent to my paypal lifeline using Darksydothemoon/at/aol-dot-com, what I’d really like someday is an nice, iCar! In that vein, as oil prices edge higher amid growing Middle East tension and US fossil fuel production grapples with price volatility and safety concerns, one entrepreneur has offered up a possible, intriguing new piece of what our future, collective energy solution might look like:

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, announced Wednesday that the company is working on a new kind of battery that would be used to power homes. Based on Tesla’s lithium-ion battery technology, the new battery is expected to help the company become a leader in the growing home energy-storage market.

At this moment, many solar or wind-powered homes have to remain on a the grid because there has not been a way to store extra power for lean hours. If given a relatively cheap and reliable battery to hold the power needed, building off-grid in the country will become commonplace …

Generation capacity in alternative energy including solar has grown dramatically over the last decade or two. But longer term storage of energy in general remains an issue for designers. Especially in places like this week’s wintery Northeast, where peak energy consumption often coincides with lower levels of alternative production and traditional distribution headaches.

But when it comes to cars and batteries, Musk is not the only one pursuing next generation technology:

New reports suggest that Apple is developing an electric and possibly driverless iCar to rival Google and Tesla. Apple are poaching Tesla employees with Elon Musk admitting Apple are offering a $250k signing bonus and a 60% pay increase. There have also been sightings in the US of Apple registered cars with some interesting tech attached to them.


  1. magistramarla says

    Have you ever seen a Tesla up close and personal? There were at least three of them on the Monterey Peninsula full-time and we would see more of them on the road when the big car shows were in town and when the pro golfers were in for their tournaments at Pebble Beach. I would sometimes park next to one and would always peek in. They are beautiful cars – inside and out.
    The hubby has said that if he ever won a lottery one of the first things that he would do is buy a Tesla.
    Right now we own two Priuses (Prii ?) and we love them. My goal is to recover enough after the surgery to be able to drive mine again. After getting used to paying $50 or less per month to the gas bill, we will never drive a gas guzzler again.
    They have models that are plug-in now. I’m not sure if they are all-electric or not, but I’m sure that I would like one of those someday.
    The computer geek husband doesn’t like Apple products because they are proprietorial about their software and he likes to be able to add whatever he wants, so I’m sure that he won’t be impressed by an iCar.
    Have a happy birthday, Stephen! I hope that things are continuing to look up for you.

  2. lanir says

    About ten years ago I was around some people who lived partially or fully off the grid. I remember they had a couple large storage shelves full of what looked like an array of car or nautical batteries. I understood that as impressive as that looked, it didn’t really amount to much power. With the solar rig they had going they were hesitant to use it to power more than an occasional movie night.

    Since then I’ve learned more and found that the usage life on those sorts of things for that purpose is pretty dismal when you look at other major investments around the home. Nobody bats an eye at a car battery that lasts a few years. Paying for twenty of them to power your home at night every few years… You’ll notice that and feel it a bit more.

    Caveat: I don’t remember any of this well enough for accurate numbers. Assume these are all off the cuff random examples and not intended to represent what a real home setup would take. That tends to require specific research anyway as power needs vary.

  3. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    lanir, 2
    Lead-Acid has been among the crappiest of battery chemistries since its inception, but it continues to be survive because it is ‘cheap’, at first (only 200~800 full cycles; maybe 5 years of life from manufacture; heavy enough to crack floors/foundations; filled with both a neurotoxic heavy-metal and a common weapon against women and occasionally men). Nickel-Cadmium and Nickel-Metal-Hydride have also largely been toxic crap since their creation, but again ‘cheap’ and usually robust (i.e., typically not a fire hazard if incorrectly charged or punctured, unlike some lithium chemistries). Fortunately, battery technology has been improving greatly over the years – especially since the rise of rechargeable Lithium batteries – and the newer Lithium chemistries have been getting much cheaper (also quite a bit less horrible for the environment to manufacture and dispose/recycle). LiFePO4 has been around for a while (2000+ cycles; 10+ years of life from manufacture; lithium being the only ‘exotic’ raw material; no fire hazard when incorrectly charged or punctured), but it has been only in the last few years that Chinese factories have begun churning them out at low prices and made them available to consumers. Lithium Titanate is an even newer and even more awesome lithium chemistry (5000+ cycles; very low internal impedance for fast, high-current, and rather efficient charge/discharge), but it has still not yet made it even to LiFePO4 production levels and availability. Most LTO manufacturers are still catering to large EV and server-grade UPS manufacturers, instead of aiming at consumers and the electric-assisted bicycles/tricycles/’other ride-ables’ proliferating throughout China since the rise of cheap brushless DC hub-motors and cheap LiFePO4 batteries.
    …that’s a lot of text to say Lead-Acid sucks and I wish it would finally die.

    Not sure how Tesla will do with their batteries, but, given their recent sales trouble in China, it seems they might be developing their cars a bit like A123 did with their batteries. A123 in particular comes to mind as a company with awesome technology (improved LiFePO4 electrodes) that spent too much time ‘perfecting’ their somewhat-premium products instead of quickly pushing ‘pretty damn good’ into mass production with later continuous improvements. A123 has changed hands a couple times now, and, while their batteries are still fucking awesome, they are just another (rather expensive) name instead of being the name in (now largely nameless/brandless Chinese) LiFePO4 chemistry batteries.

    If the local area were not so suburban sprawly and crammed with fuckwit drivers as to make human-powered vehicles pretty damn dangerous, I would have built myself a (few) LiPo/LiFePO4+BLDC electric scooters and/or (foldable) bikes by now. I also really wish my university had its own version of MITERS and a ‘build goofy shit’ leader when I was an undergrad with a still semi-functional brain and some excess funds. Until I get my brain de-borked and get an actual paying job, I have to settle for hardware planning/design (and some code writing) for the robots/EVs I want to build in-between job searches and abuse marathons dished out by the evil little fucker that is my brain.

  4. Crimson Clupeidae says

    There are dedicated communities of tech geeks/engineers that buy hybrid cars as a starting point, then tweak them to get 120+ mpg. It really wouldn’t be that much more difficult for the manufacturers to do the same thing. Given the infrastructure we have in the US (and startling lack of infrastructure is so many other areas) built around gas burning cars, hybrids seem like the way to go for at least the next 20 – 50 years.

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