Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Saturday, February 17, 2007

  Railroad delivery of electric car vehicle batteries

Whew. I read this whole thread on slashdot.org http://science.slashdot.org/science/07/02/17/1912213.shtml without someone suggesting we swap out batteries in electric vehicles (EV). I grew worried. Finally - the LAST post - had something on it. Then I had a great idea on railroads... read on:

Why is it that the average slashdot reader can envision charging systems requiring truly dangerous amounts of voltage/amperage... in order to get their charge in 5 minutes - but can't imagine a mechanical system that could swap out an EV's 1 ton battery pack in five minutes?

I'd be much happier with charging stations that charged up 1 ton battery packs overnight (and during the day to meet demand).

How much volume underneath the ground is currently occupied by fuel tanks that could instead be used for batteries, charging?

Ever notice how many service bays are shuttered across america these days? Ever see how fast someone can get a car on a lift and change a tire? I'd argue that a battery swap could take less than a minute with some automation.

Ever notice how fuel actually GETS to the service station? Those big tanker trucks, yes? Wouldn't it make sense to load up a truck with a bunch of batteries and take them to a central station to be recharged?

Heck - we could start using the railroads to distribute EV batteries! Drive up to a train terminal, with one train full of cars with fresh batteries and one empty car waiting for old batteries. Each stack of batteries on the railroad car would be on a spring + lift. You'd drive over the last railroad car, squat to deposit your dead battery, and get towed to the next car over for a new one just like in a carwash! Done, 5 minutes, tops - you'd never have to leave your car - and when the train has been emptied of fresh batteries it's equally full of drained batteries, so it can depart for it's charging station.

It might even be a good idea to include a car wash in the the process!

Better - as a train station becomes a "charging" station - it becomes a natural thing to actually use trains for more of your journey and park cars at the beginning or end of the trip.

Better - you don't even need to unload the train to charge up the batteries if you design the connectors right.

Wait - it gets even better. Nearly all the coal/oil fired power plants in the country have a train terminus hauling in tons of fuel every day to keep them running. How do the railroad cars exit the electric plant? Empty. A common figure for electricity loss over transmission lines is 60%. Why not also haul in spent batteries and haul out fresh ones via train? I imagine hauling several thousand tons of batteries, say, 50 miles, via train is probably pretty efficient (but I don't know).

And if you are nuclear - well, I'm going to look at google maps - but I'm willing to bet that most have a railroad nearby or terminating there - and the transport/recharge problem becomes even more efficient for nuclear.

In any of the "recharge at the power plant" cases, you can be running 24/7 - there is space available at the plant for the big charging facility -

All we need is:

A standard size for EV batteries. (several sizes is ok, but one to start would be a good idea). Everybody is designing a custom enclosure for their battery packs and that's not useful.

A standard foolproof way to latch them in place. Zillions of these exist. Standard ways to unlatch them (not zillions, though)

Good ways keep (and/or monitor) the batteries for damage. Most EV battery packs are already "smart" - and what's not smart now could be easily leveraged from the laptop battery industry.

Arguably SUV's as they stand higher off the road, are actually a better choice than the low-slung performance cars in this respect. Still, requiring an inch or two of padding below a battery pack ought to prove sufficient.

Various people competing to create ways to further automate the swap-out. Note: this country employees tens of thousands of gas station attendants that could just as easily be swapping out batteries on a lift.

--

Now - I'd get to the economic considerations of creating all this infrastructure - but that makes me throw my eyes up in pain. I'll argue that something like this will happen in some set of smaller countries long before it does here. There are a few positives, politically, I like, behind this proposed overall infrastructure - it makes more sense for more vested interests than at-home charging does.

Power generation companies would LOVE it. So would the railroads.
Existing service station owners have a non-gas upgrade path.
Car manufacturers - well - nothing seems to make them happy.
Battery manafacturers would love it - though a standard form factor might dissuade some - it would encourage others.

Minor losers would be in the gasoline industry. (easily compensated for by them going after pieces of the distribution network)

So, there you have it. A standard form factor for a swappable EV SUV battery solves everything. Now, get to it, people!


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Friday, February 16, 2007

  Wanted: Open Source compatible NDA and employment boilerplate

I am largely pleased with all the efforts at creating new licenses by the Creative Commons. My only gripe is that there are now too many to choose from - but the market will decide which license succeeds or fails - and that's a good thing.

There's two other documents that I have had to see and sign, over and over again, that I'd like to see improved - the Non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and the standard employment contract.

I've been griping about the standard employment contract for a decade (very old link: you'll have to scroll down) but I've generally just gritted my teeth and signed them (and subsequently ignored the parts that made my job impossible - not without trepidation, mind you!)

Standard NDAs - which are usually short 1-2 page documents - strike me as simpler to fix. (I've had to sign a lot more of those, anyway!).

Many companies are getting more and more interested by the day in Linux, but they are limited in their own legal resources. Often - they are open to releasing their specification to a designated person - but not to the world - AND they are open to and buy into the logic of - releasing the software produced from the specification as open source.

But - as soon as you try to do something out of the ordinary (e.g. open source), they get bogged down in detail. Usually all rights to all the information need remain proprietary according to the language. A single word change to the NDA or contract can take weeks to approve - or worse, kill the deal.

If there was, somewhere out on the net, a set of standard boilerplate NDAs and employment contracts that clearly gave the lee-way in IP management required for a firm and employee/contractor to successfully navigate the open source waters... vast floodgates of specifications might be made available for new devices - and it would be a better world for everyone.

Aformentioned boilerplate could vary. For example there could be a BSD-like NDA boilerplate, a GPL-like NDA boilerplate - a dual licensed GPL-like NDA boilerplate... etc.

Nothing has to be as sweet as the ideal SFWA author's contract (although that would be nice as an example!)

It would be a relief to find some legally blessed agreements for open source work, somewhere, on the web.

Do any open source compatible NDAs exist, Larry?

Update: Since Doc was kind enough to backlink to this today, I thought I would update this a bit. Greg Kroah-Hartman - the biggest USB driver dude in the Linux USB swamp - posted an excellent piece on the advantages of open source driver development... and just a few days back the FSF did a big writeup. Unfortunately both pieces went long on marketing and short on the requisite paperwork required.

Personally, I'm quite agnostic about the forms of the proposed NDA boilerplate. A dual licensed GPL agreement and_keeping_the_spec_proprietary would suit most parties just fine. BSD works for many situations. I don't care. I just want to do engineering. "Damn it, Jim - I'm a coder, not a lawyer!"

And... I wrote this piece because in the last few months:

1) I'd had a promising new job killed by my (fairly moderate IMHO) view of software patents. I was pleased to see the "mutual assured destruction" analogy picked up by such luminaries as Cory Doctorow. Almost makes not getting that gig, worth it, that.

2) My last contract spent 5 weeks clarifying what components were open source and what "open source" really meant in each case. In a lot of business minds "open source" = "free software" - and aside from a few major cases like the Linux kernel, that's simply untrue. Complying with many open source licenses is easy. (As that contract turned out, nearly all the components were under the LGPL, BSD or free beer licenses) The legal beagles on each side eventually blessed the project, but ultimately the decision had to go up to the CEO to approve. Requiring CEO signoff is not a tenable development model! Having a set of "blessed" NDA agreements would make it easier for middle managers in companies' large and small to be able to operate in the open source world.

3) My current (and on my own time) project has been greatly slowed by the lack of a formal specification for the hardware. I'm working on it because it's a cool piece of hardware - and the required reverse engineering had already been done outside the US before I started. The company is willing to let me see the spec... but hasn't got past the legal issues.

I really believe that the open source development model is the best thing for bringing up a new piece of hardware, quickly and well, long before the product actually ships - with very little IP exposure to the company making the product. In particular a dual licensed GPL scheme would probably enable more full featured software to get developed, cheaper, and faster - and still meet the requirements for windows and Macintosh.

In a day and age where a new hardware product is obsolete in 18 months, doesn't it make sense to get the software started and finished as early as possible?

Lastly: on a personal note... I'm looking for a contract or job in the embedded arm/ppc or x86_64 worlds. Resume here. I've done some major stuff in my life - not that I can show it off, because it's mostly been closed source. Recently I got asked for a code sample, and I discovered that aside from bits and pieces of patches to mozilla, gtk, various embedded architectures, and asterisk, that I didn't have a single coherent piece of code written in the last decade I could share!

I've spent the last couple months fixing that - working on something I can be proud of. Hopefully the first release will be in a few weeks.

I have found, especially since I started working on ardour, that using open source methods like freenode are a vast productivity improvement over laboring in isolation. I'm lovin it. It's been kind of hard on my mortgage. It would be great if something like it could be good for the mortgage.

So, anyway, I would like it VERY MUCH if the @#!@ open source legal issues would stay clear of my increasingly absent hair and I could focus on just the engineering problems in any future work.

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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


Resume,Songs,
My new blog, NeX-6, My facebook page
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Jeff, Rick, Ardour, Jack
Prior Rants - Wireless and Wifi in 2015 - not what I dreamed of Saving wifi! Fixing Bufferbloat! Fighting the vend... Virgin Media - Fixing the epidemic of bufferbloat ... 49... and trying to find my navel Wheels down on mars! Tracking the landing of Curiosity, from Seattle spotting NEOs from around venus's orbit Asteroids as lunar orbit resources SOPA is bad news Departing France for England, then 'home'.
Best of the blog:
Uncle Bill's Helicopter - A speech I gave to ITT Tech - Chicken soup for engineers
Beating the Brand - A pathological exploration of how branding makes it hard to think straight
Inside the Internet Mind - trying to map the weather within the global supercomputer that consists of humans and google
Sex In Politics - If politicians spent more time pounding the flesh rather than pressing it, it would be a better world
Getting resources from space - An alternative to blowing money on mars using NEAs.
On the Columbia - Why I care about space
Authors I like:
Doc Searls
Where's Cherie?
UrbanAgora
Jerry Pournelle
The Cubic Dog
Evan Hunt
The Bay Area is talking
Brizzled
Zimnoiac Emanations
Eric Raymond
Unlocking The Air
Bob Mage
BroadBand & Me
SpaceCraft
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