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Toyota: Committed to hydrogen cars despite potential ‘game changer’ electric vehicle battery

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Toyota Motor Corp said its solid-state battery technology under development could be a “game changer” for electric vehicles, but that does not mean it is moving away from hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles.

Having long touted fuel-cell vehicles and plug-in hybrids as the most sensible technologies to make cars greener, Japan’s top-selling automaker surprised industry watchers last year with plans to add full-sized electric vehicles (EVs) to its line-up.

In doing so, it joins a rush of global automakers scrambling to develop more EVs, in large part due to China’s push to promote the technology as a way to reduce pollution in the world’s biggest car market.

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“We believe our solid-state battery technology can be a game changer with the potential to dramatically improve driving range,” Executive Vice President Didier Leroy said at the Tokyo Motor Show, which opened to media on Wednesday.

Toyota plans to roll out a new electric vehicle in the early 2020s powered by solid-state batteries, which also promise to reduce the long charging times currently required.

Although China has heavily promoted electric cars, Japan has outlined plans to pioneer a hydrogen-fueled society.

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Leroy noted that Toyota was introducing two new fuel-cell vehicles at the motor show, including the six-seater “Fine-Comfort Ride” concept car, with a cruising range of about 1,000 km (620 miles).

A production version of the second model, the “Sora” fuel-cell bus, will be launched next year, with more than 100 expected to be sold, mainly in Tokyo, ahead of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games to be held in the city.

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Ridy smart camera will alert drivers when drowsy or distracted

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The Ridy smart camera attaches easily to your dashboard or windshield. It then uses machine learning technology to watch your face as you drive and notice behavior suggesting that you may be tired or distracted. This might include things like how often you blink, facial expressions such as yawns, or how often you look away from the road. If a certain threshold is passed, Ridy will give you a verbal warning.



“Young drivers can benefit a lot from this device,” co-founder Yuri Galt told Digital Trends. “They often start texting or using Snapchat while driving. If you have a 16-18 years old kid and you buy him a car, get him a Ridy as well. Professional drivers such as Uber drivers can also benefit from this, [along with] busy parents that lack sleep, and any person who texts a lot while driving.”

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Ridy isn’t the only example of technology designed for this task that we’ve covered at Digital Trends. Last year, my colleague Dyllan Furness wrote about an intriguing wearable device intended to vibrate to wake up drivers in the event they start to doze off. Unfortunately, based on the Kickstarter comments it appears to have not shipped as promised.

Several car manufacturers, including Audi, Mercedes and Volvo, also offer driver drowsiness detection systems based on their vehicle’s movements. Judged on metrics such as the angle of the steering wheel and time driven, the cars can advise you when you might want to consider taking a break to recharge your mental batteries.

As ever, we’d advise that you’re aware of the potential risks associated with pledging crowdfunding campaigns. However, if you’re happy to go ahead then head over to the team’s Indiegogo page where they are aiming to raise $25,000. Ridy prices start at $89 with shipping set to begin in July.

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self-driving van involved in crash while driving in autonomous mode

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The Chandler police department issued the following statement, The Verge reports:

“We are currently investigating a minor injury collision involving two vehicles, one of which is a Waymo autonomous vehicle. This afternoon around noon a vehicle (Honda sedan) traveling eastbound on Chandler Blvd. had to swerve to avoid striking a vehicle traveling northbound on Los Feliz Dr. As the Honda swerved, the vehicle continued eastbound into the westbound lanes of Chandler Blvd. and struck the Waymo vehicle, which was traveling at a slow speed and in autonomous mode. There was an occupant in the Waymo vehicle sitting in the driver’s seat, who sustained minor injuries. Both the Waymo vehicle and the Honda were towed from the scene. This incident is still under investigation.”

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The Chandler police also said the Waymo van was not the “violator vehicle,” ABC 15 News reported.

Twitter user Matt Jaffee posted a photo of the accident scene at 3:40 p.m. PT. Jaffee tweeted: “Right now: Pretty gnarly crash with an @Waymo van in Chandler, AZ. No visible injuries.”



Chandler Police Department spokesman Seth Tyler said this collision is the first accident involving a Waymo vehicle in Chandler this year, according to ABC News 15.

There have now been two vehicle accidents involving autonomous vehicles in the Phoenix area. In March, an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.

In November, Waymo announced it would test self-driving cars with no human backup driver behind the wheel, ABC 15 reported. A Waymo employee would be in the vehicle, but in the back seat. A Waymo human backup was in the driver’s seat in the May 4 accident.

Arizona gave Waymo transportation network company (TNC) status in January. TNC status means Waymo can charge riders for service. Riders can hail a Waymo autonomous van with the Waymo app.

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Is your ‘check engine’ light on? Here are 10 reasons why

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The orange, engine-shaped icon that sometimes appears in your car’s instrument cluster isn’t just a nuisance; it’s a sign that something is wrong under the hood. Ignoring it could leave you stranded at the worst possible moment, cost you thousands, or both.

The check engine light warns of issues ranging from a gas cap that’s not properly tightened to a more serious failure like a bad catalytic converter. Here are the ten most common problems that can trigger a check engine light.

Oxygen sensor failure

Oxygen sensorThe oxygen sensor (sometimes called an O2 sensor) measures the amount of unburnt oxygen in a car’s exhaust system. It sends data to the vehicle’s computer, which uses it to regulate the mixture of air and fuel that enters the cylinders. A car will keep running even if an O2 sensor needs to be replaced, but it will burn more fuel than usual. In the long run, a bad O2 sensor can damage components like the spark plugs and the catalytic converter. It may also cause a car to fail an emissions test.

On average, an OEM-quality O2 sensor will set you back about $175, however the cost of labor will vary greatly depending on the make, model, and your geographical location. Finally, keep in mind that most late-model cars have more than one O2 sensor.

Loose gas cap

Gas capA loose gas cap is one of the most common reasons why the check engine light turns on. The cap is a crucial part of a car’s fuel delivery system. Notably, it prevents gasoline fumes from leaving the fuel tank, and it helps keep the whole system under the correct pressure.

If your check engine light turns on immediately after a fill-up, pull over and make sure the cap isn’t loose – or still on your car’s roof. Sometimes the cap needs to be replaced, but it’s not a problem that’s going to hit your wallet hard. Most auto parts stores carry universal-fit gas caps that cost somewhere in the vicinity of $15.

Catalytic converter failure

Catalytic converter failureA catalytic converter is integrated into a vehicle’s exhaust system. It turns the carbon monoxide generated during the combustion process into carbon dioxide. It’s a fairly simple part, and its failure can often be prevented. That’s good news, because a new one costs between $200 and $600 depending on the make and model. Every late-model car that runs on gasoline has a catalytic converter.

Performing regular maintenance (such as oil changes) on time is key to keeping your car’s catalytic converter in working order. If you live in the city and mostly drive short distances, take your car on the highway every now and then to ensure the catalytic converter doesn’t get clogged. And as always, keep your eyes and ears open for unusual sounds or discolored smoke coming from the exhaust.

Spark plug/ignition coil issues

Spark plugPut simply, an ignition coil generates the electricity the spark plugs need to ignite the fuel and air mixture in the cylinders. Classic cars have a single coil, but many modern vehicles use one coil per cylinder. If your ride has a V8 under the hood, you could have eight separate coils. The monstrous Bugatti Chiron has 16. No matter how many you have though, a malfunctioning coil will almost certainly trigger the check engine light, but remember, if your car burns diesel, you have neither ignition coils nor spark plugs.

Speaking of spark plugs, worn or fouled plugs can cause a variety of issues including an engine misfire and hesitation under heavy acceleration. A worn coil can exhibit the same symptoms, and can cause the car to shut off unexpectedly. A quality spark plug costs between $10 and $20, while a coil is generally in the $50 range. Changing your own spark plugs is easier than it sounds, too.

Bad spark plug wires

Spark plug wireAs its name implies, a spark plug wire transfers electricity from the coil to the spark plug. Without it, the fuel and air mixture in the cylinders wouldn’t ignite. A vast majority of cars use a single wire per cylinder, but there are models – notably some older Mercedes-Benzes – with two spark plugs per cylinder, and consequently two wires.

Symptoms of bad spark plug wires include a rough idle, a noticeable drop in engine performance, and lower gas mileage. Count about $50 for a set of plug wires.

Mass airflow sensor failure

Mass airflow sensor failureThe mass airflow (MAF) sensor monitors how much air enters the engine. It’s a part of the engine management system, so your car wouldn’t be able to adjust to changes in altitude without it. Symptoms of an MAF failure include a rough idle, trouble starting, and a sudden change in the position of the throttle pedal. Reduced gas mileage and stalling can also indicate an MAF problem.

An MAF for a late-model car typically costs between $120 and $150.

Issues with an aftermarket alarm

Car alarmAn aftermarket alarm can wreak havoc on your car if it’s not installed properly. It can drain the battery, trigger the check engine light, or even prevent the vehicle from starting. Then, when you least expect it, it’ll go off in the middle of the night because a leaf from an oak tree fell on the hood.

If the above issues sound familiar, you’ll need to have the alarm fixed, reinstalled, or replaced entirely by a competent mechanic. Getting it done right in the first place might cost a little bit more, but the peace of mind that comes with having a fully functional alarm is priceless.

Vacuum leak(s)

Car vacuum hosesEvery car has a vacuum system that performs a wide variety of functions. The brake booster is vacuum-operated, and the vacuum system also helps lower harmful emissions by routing the fumes as gasoline evaporates through the engine. If your car’s idle begins to surge or settles at an unusually high rpm, a vacuum leak could be the culprit.

Vacuum hoses can dry out and crack as they age, especially if they’re exposed to intense heat or extreme cold. This is the most common cause of vacuum leaks. Other common issues include cracked fittings and loose connections. Vacuum lines cost just a few bucks each, but tracing the source of the leak can be time-consuming — and expensive if you’re not performing the work yourself.

Exhaust gas recirculation valve failure

Exhaust gas recirculation valveThe exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system lowers the amount of nitrogen oxide that comes out of the car’s engine and helps it run more efficiently. It directs the hot exhaust gases back into the combustion chambers, which warms up the fuel and makes it easier to burn. It also reduces emissions.

The EGR valve can get clogged up or fail entirely. If you’re even slightly mechanically inclined, you can remove the valve, clean it up, and re-install it in a relatively short amount of time. If the valve needs to be replaced, expect to pay at least $125 for a brand new, OEM-quality unit.

Dead battery

Dead batteryThe battery is as simple as it is important; without it, your car won’t start, light up the road ahead, or charge your phone. Today’s batteries last much longer than before, and they’re maintenance-free. The price of a new one depends on the type of car you drive, but plan on spending at least $100 for a quality battery.

Changing or charging a battery on your own is a relatively easy task, but keep in mind that in some late-model cars it’s buried under countless plastic covers, and it might be a little difficult to access. Also, note that disconnecting the battery will often reset your stereo system. If you don’t have the code, ask your local dealer for it before you unbolt the positive and negative terminals. Otherwise, you’ll be driving in silence.

My check engine light is on — now what?

Modern cars are brimming with high-tech bells and whistles, but you still need a separate, aftermarket device to decipher why the check engine light is on. Most motorists simply take their car to the dealership. That’s the easy way out, but it’s also the most expensive route to take.

If you want to skip a trip to the repair shop, spend a few dollars on a Bluetooth-compatible OBD II scanner (or a more advanced adapter)  and download a compatible app like Torque from either the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store. You can get the tool and the app for less than $15.

Ready? Start by finding your car’s OBD II port. It’s usually in the driver’s footwell, not far from the hood release, but sometimes it’s hidden behind the center console or in a compartment built into the floor. Plug in the scanner, launch the app on your phone, and the error codes stored in the car’s ECU will appear on the screen. Sometimes the codes are clearly explained; other times you’ll need to do a bit of searching to figure out what P1301 means.

There are professional-grade code scanners that are more precise but also much more expensive. Alternatively, some auto parts stores will run a diagnostic test for free. However, getting a Bluetooth scanner and an app will save you time and money while making you more car-savvy.

So the check engine light tells me when I should fix my car?

The check engine light provides an idea — sometimes precise, sometimes vague — of what’s wrong with a car. However, it doesn’t replace a skilled mechanic.

In other words, don’t wait until the check engine light comes on repair your car. The ECU is not going to warn you that the water pump is about to fail, that one of the ball joints is worn, or that the A/C is going to stop blowing cold air in mid-August. If your car drives, sounds, or smells funny, either fix it or take it to someone who can.

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