D.C.’s crap is finally being put to good use: Generating clean energy

D.C.’s crap is finally being put to good use: Generating clean energy

D.C., the American city most full of shit, is now powered by it.

The Washington Post reports that utility D.C. Water recently started using a Norwegian thermal hydrolysis system to turn sewage into clean energy. From the Post:

Here’s how it works: When you flush or send soapsuds down the drain, the contents travel through miles of pipe and ultimately reach [the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant], off Interstate 295 in Southwest Washington. There, what looks like brown, murky water flows through screens that remove debris and then sits to allow solids to settle. Then, enormous centrifuges spin off the water and concentrate the remaining solids. (Don’t think too long about that part.)

The liquid is sent off to be treated and then returned to the Potomac River, and the concentrated sludge is pumped into large steel Cambi reactors, named for the Norwegian manufacturer. The reactors function like pressure cookers, using 338-degree steam and pressure to cook the sludge. Then it gets pumped to another tank. …

The sludge is then sent into one of four “digesters” – concrete cylinder tanks as tall as eight-story buildings – that each hold 3.8 million gallons. There, it spends about three weeks as microbial bugs nibble at it. The bugs convert the organic matter into methane gas, which is cleaned and sent to a nearby building, where turbines burn the methane gas and produce electricity. The entire system covers about five acres.

It seems gross – and probably smells like a porta-potty at a NASCAR rally in August – but the Post reports that the system will produce enough electricity to power about 10,500 homes. Plus, there’s the savings. D.C. Water says the system will save $13 million annually, and it will eventually be able to sell the byproducts as compost. This might be the least shitty thing to come out of D.C. since, well, ever.

Solar power access looking a lot brighter in California

An important part of all the talk around renewable energy is how we can make it accessible to everyone, and not just the fortunate few who prefer Teslas with their Dom Perignon. But in California, they’re doing more than just talking about it – they’re making it happen on a larger scale than anywhere else in the country.

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed bill AB 693, which designates $100 million to installing solar power equipment in low-income communities over the next 10 years. Thanks to the bill, 215,000 multifamily affordable housing units will have solar panels installed. Low-income families who use solar power will also be eligible to get credit for lower utility costs.

In a press release, Strela Cervas, the co-director of California Environmental Justice Alliance, stated:

While low-­income communities and communities of color have long been locked out of the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy, AB 693 will bridge this green divide. It will infuse low-­income communities with health and economic benefits by lowering utility bills and creating clean energy in some of the communities that have been most impacted by pollution.

AB 693 is one of three bills in the environmental justice package signed this week by Brown. Another adds two representatives to California’s Air Resources Board from communities overburdened by pollution and environmental degradation, and the third details a policy that would bring income from penalty fines directly to the same such communities.

Despite that whole massive drought and being on fire thing, the Golden State is looking pret-ty good this week. We’re a little jealous over here in New York – and California already had the far superior unofficial state anthem, so this is just getting unfair.

New York’s JFK airport has an urban farm. Wait, what?

The potatoes in your bag of complimentary airline chips could someday come from a farm at – surprise! – New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Outside JetBlue Airways’ Terminal 5, a few thousand black plastic crates form raised beds for an urban garden. USA Today reports:

Designed to promote New York agriculture and add a bit more green space to the airport, the 24,000-square-foot T5 farm is growing produce, herbs, and the same blue potatoes used to make the Terra Blues potato chips JetBlue offers year-round as complimentary snacks to passengers during flights.

“In today’s world of genetically modified and franken-foods, it is very important to know where your food comes from,” said Brian Holtman, JetBlue’s manager of concession programs, at a farm “reveal” on Thursday. “By creating a farm at T5, we can show crew members and customers exactly where their food is coming from.”

This fledging farm-to-airplane-tray movement has a long way to go. It takes between one and three potatoes to produce each bag of JetBlue chips, according to CBS, and JetBlue hands out 5.8 million bags each year. The potatoes grown in the airport’s garden (smaller than half a football field) would meet less than 1 percent of that demand, CBS points out. That’s not the plan for right now anyway: The farm will provide produce for the terminal’s restaurants.

Starting an urban garden at an airport wasn’t easy. Since encounters between wildlife and airplanes are costly, the plants were specially selected to attract bees and butterflies – and not heftier fauna. In addition, the garden’s plastic crates were bolted to the ground to ensure the garden could withstand the force of an earthquake or Katrina-level-hurricane.

So the question remains: Why? The company hopes that this unlikely farming experiment will improve air quality around the terminal and educate the garden’s visitors in addition to providing airport food.

However, when compared to the huge carbon footprint of air travel (which accounts for 2.5 percent of global emissions), the garden is small potatoes.

Chicago power company aims for 1 million smart thermostats by 2020

I’ve written before about my experiences with a Nest learning thermostat, seeing a 22% reduction in my gas bill one month-even though the Nest replaced a programmable (and programmed!) thermostat.

What I’ve often thought since installing the Nest, however, is how many other homes in my neighborhood could do with one. Given that most of our neighborhood was built out in the 40s and 50s, the homes are incredibly leaky and often hard to weatherize effectively. So simply reducing the amount of time that they are heated or cooled would be a relatively simple (and cheap) way of cutting down on bills.

Heck, after several whiskeys I even managed to convince Lloyd (who has traditionally been skeptical of smart home hype), that smart thermostats are a sensible investment in older, more poorly insulated homes.

Now we’ll get to test the impact of smart thermostats out on a grander scale. As reported by the Washington Post, ComEd-the largest power company in Illinois with over 3.8 million customers-is planning a major smart thermostat push, offering heavy $120 rebates on Nest and Ecobee thermostats that will almost halve the price and should mean payback times of just a year or so for many homeowners. The ultimate plan, says ComEd (and several gas utilities it is partnering with) is to install 1 million units by 2020.

Obviously, a roll out of this magnitude could have a significant impact on power demand among ComEd’s customer base. Some initial independent research commissioned by Nest suggests on average, homeowners can save 10 to 12 percent on heating bills and 15 percent on cooling, even compared to traditional programmable thermostats. (My experience would seem to validate this claim.) And while proponents of the Chicago scheme are claiming it will save 709,000 metric tons of CO2 each year, it would be a mistake to think of this purely in terms of reducing overall energy demand. It’s also about managing when that demand happens.

In a fascinating interview with UK-based Business Green (behind a paywall), Nest’s head of energy Ben Bixby suggested that for Nest this is as much about helping utilities to responsively manage demand from customers, adjusting thermostats (and the increasing number of power hungry devices, like electric car chargers, fridges and washing machines, which are designed to communicate with those thermostats) when demand is high-reducing the need for expensive and often polluting peaker power plants. Here’s how Bixby it to Business Green:

“This is a trend that is only really beginning now, but with the decreased costs of adding connectivity, you’ll see an ever-larger portion of the home, slowly, piecemeal, becoming networked.”

Let’s just hope that this smart home push is accompanied by an equal effort to do the simple things right too. From insulation to caulking, there’s no reason that “smart” and “dumb” home technologies can’t coexist.

 

A new AIDS vaccine is about to be trialled in humans for the first time

A new AIDS vaccine trial is about to begin in the US, and this one is a little different – the vaccine has been developed over the past 15 years by Robert Gallo, the scientist who first proved in 1984 that HIV triggered the disease.

The phase I trial will involve 60 volunteers and will simply test the safety and immune responses of the vaccine, so we won’t know for a while whether it will be more effective than the other 100+ AIDS vaccines that have been trialled over the past 30 years. But extensive testing has been done in monkeys so far with positive results.

Although there have been some promising vaccine candidates in the past, the challenge with AIDS is that HIV directly infects white blood cells called T-cells, so it literally turns our immune system against us. That means that once the virus has entered a T-cell, it’s invisible to the immune system.

The only chance we have to prevent infection is to trigger antibodies against the HIV surface proteins before that happens – something that’s been equally difficult considering the fact that the retrovirus can regularly change its viral envelope to hide particular surface proteins.

But Gallo and his team at the Institute of Human Virology in the US think they may have now found a moment when the HIV surface protein, known as gp120, is vulnerable to detection – the moment the virus binds with our bodies’ T-cells.

When HIV infects a patient, it first links to the CD4 receptor on the white blood cell. It then transitions, exposing hidden parts of its viral envelope, which allow it to bind to a second receptor called CCR5. Once HIV is attached to both these T-cell receptors, it can successfully infect the immune cell. And at that point, it’s too late to do anything to stop it.

Known as the “full-length single chain” vaccine, Gallo’s vaccine contains the HIV surface protein gp120, engineered to link to a few portions of the CD4 receptor. That goal is to trigger antibodies against gp120 when it’s already attached to CD4 and is in its vulnerable transitional state, effectively stopping it from attaching to the second CCR5 attachment.

And before you say anything, Gallo himself admitted to Jon Cohen over at that full-length single chain vaccine is a “terrible name”.

The trial is being run in collaboration with Profectus BioSciences, a biotech spin-off from the Institute of Human Virology, and Gallo explained that they’ve taken so long to get to this point because they’ve been extremely thorough in their testing on monkeys, and then had to scramble for funding to develop the drug into a human-grade vaccine.

“Was anything a lack of courage?” he asked “Sure. We wanted more and more answers before going into people.”

Let’s hope that caution pays off, and we may finally have a viable contender for an AIDS vaccine on our hands. Watch this space.

Electric car owners wage war over charging spots

There’s a new face of road rage. She composts her coffee grounds, never forgets her reusable grocery bags, and turns into the Hulk over inconsiderate parking spot use. Meet the electric vehicle driver.

The New York Times reports that a shortage of charging stations is leading to bad blood between some EV drivers. From the Times:

Unlike gas stations, charging stations are not yet in great supply, and that has led to sharp-elbowed competition. Electric-vehicle owners are unplugging one another’s cars, trading insults, and creating black markets and side deals to trade spots in corporate parking lots. The too-few-outlets problem is a familiar one in crowded cafes and airports, where people want to charge their phones or laptops. But the need can be more acute with cars – will their owners have enough juice to make it home? – and manners often go out the window.

You can see why there would be problems. The limited range of electric vehicles – usually around 80 miles – means that drivers often have to recharge using public stations. While these stations are cheap or even free to use, there just aren’t that many of them. There is currently one charger for every 10 EVs, according to the Times, and with the vehicles taking anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours to recharge, people get pissy when you hog the pump.

Naturally, there’s a hierarchy among EV drivers, with all-electric cars like Nissan Leafs getting priority at charging stations (at least, according to all-electric car drivers), followed by plug-in hybrids, which can also run on gasoline. At the very bottom are Teslas, which have a range of several hundred miles and, more importantly, you probably can’t afford. From the Times:

Jamie Hull, who drives an electric Fiat, grew apoplectic recently when she discovered herself nearly out of a charge, unable to get home to Palo Alto. She found a charging station, but a Tesla was parked in it and not charging. She ordered a coffee, waited for the driver to return and, when he did, asked why he was taking a spot when he was not charging. She said the man had told her that he was going to run one more errand and walked off.

“I seriously considered keying his car,” she said.

Next time, we hope she does it.

Brain’s activity map makes stable ‘fingerprint’ – BBC News

Neuroscientists have found that they can identify individuals based on a coarse map of which brain regions “pair up” in scans of brain activity.

The map is stable enough that the researchers could pick one person’s pattern from a set of 126, by matching it to a scan taken on another day.

This was possible even if the person was “at rest” during one scan, and busy doing a task in the other.

Furthermore, aspects of the map can predict certain cognitive abilities.

Presented in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the findings demonstrate a surprising stability in this “functional fingerprint” of the brain.

“The exciting thing… is not that we can identify people by putting them in an MRI machine – because we can identify people just by looking at them,” said Emily Finn, a PhD student at Yale University who co-wrote the study with her colleague Dr Xilin Shen.

“What was most exciting to me was that these profiles are so stable and reliable, in the same person, no matter if it’s today or tomorrow and no matter what your brain is doing when we’re scanning you.”

Predicting intelligence

Crucially, this fingerprint is based on brain activity – not the organ’s physical structure.

In the the myriad links between our billions of brain cells, and even at the level of a normal MRI scan, we are all physically unique.

But Ms Finn and her colleagues drew a map of each brain purely on the basis of which regions, in each individual, tended to leap into action at the same time. They used data from functional MRI (fMRI), which records subtle ups and downs in the busyness of the brain.

Because it is relatively imprecise, fMRI has not typically been used to compare individual brains. Instead, scientists tend to record from several subjects and average the results.

“We were interested in flipping the traditional fMRI analysis on its head, and not asking what are the commonalities – how do all brains look the same, doing the same task – but rather, does the same brain look the same, regardless of what it’s doing?” Ms Finn explained.

So they took fMRI results from the first 126 subjects of the Human Connectome Project, a huge US initiative to gather data about the brain’s “wiring diagram”. These subjects had all been scanned multiple times, on different days, both while they were resting and while they were occupied by various tests.

Within each of those scans, the researchers looked at what was happening in 268 key spots within the brain: how closely did the ups and downs at this spot match the ups and downs at all 267 other spots?

This produced a profile of the flow of activity in each brain. And that profile was consistent enough that the team could use it to pick out the same individual – more than 90% of the time – from a different set of scans, done on a different day.

They also found that they could use the profile to predict, to a certain degree, how well the subjects did at particular cognitive tests that measured “fluid intelligence”.

This is a type of on-the-spot, untrained reasoning that is measured by some IQ tests. Ms Finn is quick to point out that her technique could never substitute for those questionnaires.

“None of us would recommend a brain scan over an IQ test,” she said. “This is just proof-of-concept that these connectivity profiles are relevant to this very sophisticated cognitive behaviour.”

If these individual maps show strong associations with psychological phenomena, she added, they could prove useful in the clinic.

“This opens the door to predicting things that are harder to tell just by looking at someone, or giving them a test – like risk for different mental illnesses.”

Ones and zeros

Recently, a different study used a very similar technique to show that these brain maps can predict a range of characteristics, from someone’s vocabulary to their income.

One of its authors, Prof Thomas Nichols, said he was not surprised that Ms Finn and her colleagues were able to distinguish individuals.

“What this is getting at is the very high-quality nature of this data,” said Prof Nicholls, a brain imaging statistician at the University of Warwick. He said the data emerging from the Human Connectome Project, which also formed the basis of his study, is “bleeding-edge, state-of-the-art” stuff.

“It’s really, really good and there’s a huge volume of data on each subject.”

Tim Behrens, professor of computational neuroscience at Oxford University, said he was most impressed by the consistency between the resting and task-based maps in the study.

“What is particularly interesting is that the way the brain connects… at rest, is so similar to how it connects during a task – when it’s doing something interesting. That’s what’s exciting about it,” Prof Behrens told the BBC.

By comparison, he said, you would not expect “the pattern of ones and noughts” in a busy computer to reflect the pattern in a computer that is not doing anything.

“It tells you that something about the function of the brain is fundamentally built into patterns of activity that just live there, all the time.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter

Eating Organic Lowers Pesticide Levels in Children

Researchers have found that when children eat organic fruits and vegetables, the amount of pesticides in their bodies declines significantly.

Most organophosphorus pesticides have been phased out for residential use, but they are still widely used in agriculture. High doses in agricultural workers can be deadly.

The study, in the October issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, included 20 children living in Oakland, Calif., and 20 in the agricultural community of Salinas, about 100 miles south. The children ate a conventional diet for four days and an organic diet for seven days and then returned to conventional foods for five days.

About 72 percent of their urine samples, collected daily, contained evidence of pesticides. Of the six most frequently detected pesticides, two decreased by nearly 50 percent when children were on the organic diet, and levels of a common herbicide fell by 25 percent. Amounts of three other pesticides were not significantly lower on the organic diet. Levels were generally higher in the Salinas children than in the Oakland children.

“There’s evidence that diet is one route of exposure to pesticides, and you can reduce your exposure by choosing organic food,” said the lead author, Asa Bradman, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley. “But I would never say that conventional fruits and vegetables are unsafe. They’re all healthy.”

 

Coral Worldwide Threatened By Bleaching

        Corals worldwide are at risk from a major episode of bleaching which turns reefs white, scientists have confirmed.

 

The bleaching has hit reefs in the Pacific, Atlantic and Caribbean.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned it may affect over 38% of the world’s reefs, and kill over 12,000 sq km of reefs.

The mass bleaching is caused by rising water temperatures resulting from two natural warm currents and exacerbated by man-made climate change.

Bleaching happens when corals under stress drive out the algae known as zooxanthellae that give them colour.

If normal conditions return, the corals can recover. But the process can take decades, and if the stress continues, the corals can die.

Reefs are under multiple threats including pollution, over-fishing, sedimentation and damage from boats and tourism.

The current worldwide bleaching episode is predicted to be the worst on record as the warming Pacific current, El Nino, increases in strength. Water temperatures are being driven further by a separate natural warm-water mass dubbed the Pacific Blob.

Man-made climate change also contributes, as the oceans are absorbing about 93% of the increase in the earth’s heat.

Additionally, corals face ocean acidification as CO2 emissions are absorbed into the oceans, changing the pH of seawater.

Some scientists are warning that spectacular reefs as we know them – with branching corals and fan corals – are unlikely to survive changes in temperature and pH by the end of this century. That’s if they are not killed first by other damaging local activities.

The current bleaching episode was predicted by NOAA and confirmed by researchers and citizen scientists in the Caribbean. The main groups involved are XL Catlin Seaview Survey, the University of Queensland, and Reef Check.

Although reefs represent less than 0,1% of the world’s ocean floor, they help support about a quarter of all marine species. The NOAA says the livelihoods of 500 million people and income worth over $30bn (£19,6bn) are at stake.

Reefs are the breeding ground for tropical fisheries. They also provide shelter from the waves for tropical islands and bring invaluable tourist income.

“Just like in 1998 and 2010, we’re observing bleaching on a global scale, which will cause massive loss of corals. With people relying on fisheries and reefs for sustenance, the repercussions could be potentially disastrous,” said Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland.

Prof Rupert Ormond, Secretary of the International Society for Reef Studies, told BBC News: “Although corals may live for several days after they bleach, they then usually die. They may recover – but only if the sea temperature drops within a week or so. Mostly it takes much longer, so the reef ends up covered with dead corals, especially on its upper parts.

“The reefs may slowly recover if new coral colonies come in from outside, but this may take years or decades. I know coral reefs in Kenya that lost most of their corals in 1998 and they still only have a few percent of the corals once there.”

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

Chernobyl Wildlife Thriving Decades After Nuclear Accident : DNews

On a haunting, contaminated landscape devoid of humans, animals are now thriving. So finds a new study on wildlife populations in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, late of the former Soviet Union and now part of Ukraine.

In 1986, Chernobyl was the site of of a nuclear reactor accident, the radiation from which caused the displacement of human life from an area of more than 1,000 square miles. Only animals were left to roam the the area.

Today, a multi-university study finds, the exclusion zone has abundant roe deer, red deer, elk, and wild boar — so many that the researchers say their numbers rival those of nature preserves in the region that are not contaminated.

Wolves, they add, are seven times more populous than animals in those radiation-free areas.

chernobyl-animals-deer-1.jpg

“It’s very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are much higher than they were before the accident,” said Jim Smith, of the University of Portsmouth, in a press release.

While earlier studies had shown sharp drops in wildlife thanks to radiation effects, the new data, culled from long-term census information and helicopter surveys, argues that mammals are back with a vengeance.

“These results demonstrate for the first time that, regardless of potential radiation effects on individual animals, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone supports an abundant mammal community after nearly three decades of chronic radiation exposure,” the scientists wrote.

“This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife,” Smith cautioned, “just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming, and forestry, are a lot worse.”

The team’s findings have been published in the journal Current Biology.

Hamburg Sets Out to Become a Car-Free City in 20 Years

By Ignasi Jorro in Barcelona

Hamburg City Council has disclosed ambitious plans to divert most cars away from its main thoroughfares in twenty years. In order to do so, local authorities are to connect pedestrian and cycle lanes in what is expected to become a large green network. In all, the Grünes Netz (Green Web) plan envisages “eliminating the need for automoviles” within two decades.

By connecting the entire urban centre with its outskirts Hamburg is expecting to smooth inner traffic flow. In all, the northernmost city is to lay out new green areas and connect them with the existing parks, community gardens and cementeries.

Upon completion of the plan Hamburg will pride itself on having over 17,000 acres of green spaces, making up 40% of the city’s area.

According to an official, the ambitious plan will “reduce the need to take the car for weekend outings outside the city”.

Although vehicles are not to be banned from the main thoroughfares, the council expects residents and tourists alike to be able “to explore the city exclusively on bike and foot.”

At the same time, the green ring will play a crutial role to help the metropolis fight against rising temperatures and urban flooding.

The average temperature in Germany’s second-largest city has risen by 9 degrees Celsius in scarcely half a century, experts warn.

As regards to leisure, the interspersed patches of green areas will let residents “hike, swim, do water sports, enjoy picnics and restaurants, experience calm and watch nature and wildlife right in the city”.

Youtube clip backs idea of traffic anarchy in Rome

Invisibility cloak might enhance efficiency of solar cells

A special invisibility cloak (right) guides sunlight past the contacts for current removal to the active surface area of the solar cell. Credit: Martin Schumann, KIT

Success of the energy turnaround will depend decisively on the extended use of renewable energy sources. However, their efficiency partly is much smaller than that of conventional energy sources. The efficiency of commercially available photovoltaic cells, for instance, is about 20%. Scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now published an unconventional approach to increasing the efficiency of the panels. Optical invisibility cloaks guide sunlight around objects that cast a shadow on the solar panel, such as contacts for current extraction.

Energy efficiency of solar panels has to be improved significantly not only for the energy turnaround, but also for enhancing economic efficiency. Modules that are presently mounted on roofs convert just one fifth of the light into electricity, which means that about 80% of the solar energy are lost. The reasons of these high losses are manifold. Up to one tenth of the surface area of solar cells, for instance, is covered by so-called contact fingers that extract the current generated. At the locations of these contact fingers, light cannot reach the active area of the solar cell and efficiency of the cell decreases.

“Our model experiments have shown that the cloak layer makes the contact fingers nearly completely invisible,” doctoral student Martin Schumann of the KIT Institute of Applied Physics says, who conducted the experiments and simulations. Physicists of KIT around project head Carsten Rockstuhl, together with partners from Aachen, Freiburg, Halle, Jena, and Jülich, modified the optical invisibility cloak designed at KIT for guiding the incident light around the contact fingers of the solar cell.

Normally, invisibility cloak research is aimed at making objects invisible. For this purpose, light is guided around the object to be hidden. This research project did not focus on hiding the contact fingers visually, but on the deflected light that reaches the active surface area of the solar cell thanks to the invisibility cloak and, hence, can be used.

To achieve the cloaking effect, the scientists pursued two approaches. Both are based on applying a polymer coating onto the solar cell. This coating has to possess exactly calculated optical properties, i.e. an index of refraction that depends on the location or a special surface shape. The second concept is particularly promising, as it can potentially be integrated into mass production of solar cells at low costs. The surface of the cloak layer is grooved along the contact fingers. In this way, incident light is refracted away from the contact fingers and finally reaches the active surface area of the solar cell (see Figure).

By means of a model experiment and detailed simulations, the researchers demonstrated that both concepts are suited for hiding the contact fingers. In the next step, it is planned to apply the cloaking layer onto a solar cell in order to determine the efficiency increase. The physicists are optimistic that efficiency will be improved by the cloak under real conditions: “When applying such a coating onto a real solar cell, optical losses via the contact fingers are supposed to be reduced and efficiency is assumed to be increased by up to 10%,” Martin Schumann says.

More information: Martin F. Schumann, Samuel Wiesendanger, Jan Christoph Goldschmidt, Benedikt Bläsi, Karsten Bittkau, Ulrich W. Paetzold, Alexander Sprafke, Ralf B. Wehrspohn, Carsten Rockstuhl, and Martin Wegener, “Cloaked contact grids on solar cells by coordinate transformations: designs and prototypes,” Optica 2, 850-853 (2015) DOI: 10.1364/OPTICA.2.000850

Provided by: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Invisibility cloak might enhance efficiency of solar cells

A special invisibility cloak (right) guides sunlight past the contacts for current removal to the active surface area of the solar cell. Credit: Martin Schumann, KIT

Success of the energy turnaround will depend decisively on the extended use of renewable energy sources. However, their efficiency partly is much smaller than that of conventional energy sources. The efficiency of commercially available photovoltaic cells, for instance, is about 20%. Scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now published an unconventional approach to increasing the efficiency of the panels. Optical invisibility cloaks guide sunlight around objects that cast a shadow on the solar panel, such as contacts for current extraction.

Energy efficiency of solar panels has to be improved significantly not only for the energy turnaround, but also for enhancing economic efficiency. Modules that are presently mounted on roofs convert just one fifth of the light into electricity, which means that about 80% of the solar energy are lost. The reasons of these high losses are manifold. Up to one tenth of the surface area of solar cells, for instance, is covered by so-called contact fingers that extract the current generated. At the locations of these contact fingers, light cannot reach the active area of the solar cell and efficiency of the cell decreases.

“Our model experiments have shown that the cloak layer makes the contact fingers nearly completely invisible,” doctoral student Martin Schumann of the KIT Institute of Applied Physics says, who conducted the experiments and simulations. Physicists of KIT around project head Carsten Rockstuhl, together with partners from Aachen, Freiburg, Halle, Jena, and Jülich, modified the optical invisibility cloak designed at KIT for guiding the incident light around the contact fingers of the solar cell.

Normally, invisibility cloak research is aimed at making objects invisible. For this purpose, light is guided around the object to be hidden. This research project did not focus on hiding the contact fingers visually, but on the deflected light that reaches the active surface area of the solar cell thanks to the invisibility cloak and, hence, can be used.

To achieve the cloaking effect, the scientists pursued two approaches. Both are based on applying a polymer coating onto the solar cell. This coating has to possess exactly calculated optical properties, i.e. an index of refraction that depends on the location or a special surface shape. The second concept is particularly promising, as it can potentially be integrated into mass production of solar cells at low costs. The surface of the cloak layer is grooved along the contact fingers. In this way, incident light is refracted away from the contact fingers and finally reaches the active surface area of the solar cell (see Figure).

By means of a model experiment and detailed simulations, the researchers demonstrated that both concepts are suited for hiding the contact fingers. In the next step, it is planned to apply the cloaking layer onto a solar cell in order to determine the efficiency increase. The physicists are optimistic that efficiency will be improved by the cloak under real conditions: “When applying such a coating onto a real solar cell, optical losses via the contact fingers are supposed to be reduced and efficiency is assumed to be increased by up to 10%,” Martin Schumann says.

More information: Martin F. Schumann, Samuel Wiesendanger, Jan Christoph Goldschmidt, Benedikt Bläsi, Karsten Bittkau, Ulrich W. Paetzold, Alexander Sprafke, Ralf B. Wehrspohn, Carsten Rockstuhl, and Martin Wegener, “Cloaked contact grids on solar cells by coordinate transformations: designs and prototypes,” Optica 2, 850-853 (2015) DOI: 10.1364/OPTICA.2.000850

Provided by: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Ecological Beachgoers Are Flip-Flopping Out for New Student-Designed Mat

The sweltering heat of summer may have subsided on this side of the equator, but one Lebanese student is keeping cool all year round with his innovative eco-friendly beach mat design that charges phones and chills beverages.

Powered by a five-watt solar panel and a built-in thermal fridge, the Beachill waterproof mattress lets beachgoers keep their drinks cold and their portable devices charged while making a positive impact on the environment.

Its lightweight design makes it easy to carry to and from any location, and a small pocket provides storage space.

Antoine Sayah developed the product for a university project that prompted students to invent something that was both ecological and useful to their day-to-day lives.

RELATED: 7 Prefab Eco-Houses You Can Order Today

“I designed something that could solve the problems I face when I go to the beach: My phone runs out of battery, water warms up in bottles, I can’t relax because mattresses cause back pain,” the 23-year-old student told Reuters. Sayah holds a degree in product design from a school in Italy but is studying architecture at Lebanon’s University Saint-Esprit de Kaslik, where he introduced the design.

Two weeks after posting the product to Instagram, Sayah sold 60 prototypes for $150 per mat and drew attention from people all around the world.

“I got phone calls from Brazil, Toronto, all Europe, especially France, America, from all continents, Africa, and even from Congo,” said the young designer. “When I started developing the project, I thought only people in Lebanon will see it and that will be it.”

Though Sayah and his product team are working to supply the unexpected demand, only 10 Beachills can be produced a day. However, the young innovator is reaching out to investors so he can expand the production to fulfill orders for both local and global customers.

In the meantime, the Beachill has undergone a makeover. On Tuesday, Sayah’s team announced a bigger, customizable version that can be converted into a sofa or bed and features a seven-watt solar charger.

New Alzheimer’s treatment fully restores memory function

Australian researchers have come up with a non-invasive ultrasound technology that clears the brain of neurotoxic amyloid plaques – structures that are responsible for memory loss and a decline in cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients.

If a person has Alzheimer’s disease, it’s usually the result of a build-up of two types of lesions – amyloid plaques, and neurofibrillary tangles. Amyloid plaques sit between the neurons and end up as dense clusters of beta-amyloid molecules, a sticky type of protein that clumps together and forms plaques.

Neurofibrillary tangles are found inside the neurons of the brain, and they’re caused by defective tau proteins that clump up into a thick, insoluble mass. This causes tiny filaments called microtubules to get all twisted, which disrupts the transportation of essential materials such as nutrients and organelles along them, just like when you twist up the vacuum cleaner tube.

As we don’t have any kind of vaccine or preventative measure for Alzheimer’s – a disease that affects 343,000 people in Australia, and 50 million worldwide – it’s been a race to figure out how best to treat it, starting with how to clear the build-up of defective beta-amyloid and tau proteins from a patient’s brain. Now a team from the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at the University of Queensland have come up with a pretty promising solution for removing the former.

Publishing in Science Translational Medicine, the team describes the technique as using a particular type of ultrasound called a focused therapeutic ultrasound, which non-invasively beams sound waves into the brain tissue. By oscillating super-fast, these sound waves are able to gently open up the blood-brain barrier, which is a layer that protects the brain against bacteria, and stimulate the brain’s microglial cells to activate. Microglila cells are basically waste-removal cells, so they’re able to clear out the toxic beta-amyloid clumps that are responsible for the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The team reports fully restoring the memory function of 75 percent of the mice they tested it on, with zero damage to the surrounding brain tissue. They found that the treated mice displayed improved performance in three memory tasks – a maze, a test to get them to recognise new objects, and one to get them to remember the places they should avoid.

“We’re extremely excited by this innovation of treating Alzheimer’s without using drug therapeutics,” one of the team, Jürgen Götz, said in a press release. “The word ‘breakthrough’ is often misused, but in this case I think this really does fundamentally change our understanding of how to treat this disease, and I foresee a great future for this approach.”

The team says they’re planning on starting trials with higher animal models, such as sheep, and hope to get their human trials underway in 2017.

You can hear an ABC radio interview with the team here.

The Largest Social Movement in History

When You Know Where to Look You Can See The Great Turning is Occurring Everywhere

An unprecedented phenomenon now happening in this world of ours. Be they teachers in favelas, forest defenders, urban farmers, occupiers of Wall Street, designers of windmills, military resisters (the list goes on…), the fact is people from all walks of life are coming alive and coming together, impelled to create a more just and sustainable society.

In his book Blessed Unrest Paul Hawken presents this – what he calls The Movement With No Name – as the largest social movement of human history. Estimating the number of grassroots groups and nongovernmental organisations for social justice, Indigenous rights and environmental sanity, he suggests a figure of 2 million of us (as of 2007), and counting.

Each of these groups and organisations represents a yet vaster number of individuals who, in some way or another (and each uniquely in their own fashion), are hearing the call to widen the notions of their self-interest and act for the sake of life on Earth.

In this defining moment, countless choices are being made, habits relinquished, friendships forged, and gateways opened to unforeseen collaborations and capacities.

The Time of the Great Turning

These shape the stories that deserve to be told – stories of ordinary men, women and youngsters who are making changes in their minds, their lives and their communities, in order to lay the groundwork for this more just and sustainable world. These are the tales that we need to hear, and those who come after us will want them as well. For when future generations look back at this historical moment, they will see, more clearly than we can right now, just how revolutionary it is. They may well call it the time of the Great Turning.

For those of us living now it is easy to be unaware of the immensity of this transition – from an entrenched, militarised industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilisation.

Mainstream education and mainstream media do not provide the tools for comprehending such a perspective. Yet social thinkers such as Lester Brown and Donella Meadows and others recognise this transition as the third major watershed in humanity’s journey, comparable in magnitude and scope to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. This is the essential adventure of our time.

Like all true revolutions, it belongs to the people.

Its inspiring stories do not star titans of industry or party politicians, military generals or media celebrities. The power of this revolution lies in the fact that it comes from people of all ages and backgrounds as they engage in actions on behalf of life itself. Their motivation represents a remarkable expansion of allegiance beyond personal or group advantage. This wider sense of identity is a moral capacity more often associated with heroes and saints; but it now manifests everywhere on a practical and workaday plane.

From children restoring streams for salmon spawning, to inner-city neighbours planting community gardens, from forest defenders perched high in trees marked for illegal logging, to countless climate actions to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, an undreamt-of wave of human endeavour is under way. Each of these engagements has its own intrinsic rewards, whether its initial goal is achieved or not. And even when failing to reach the desired outcome, the gains can be invaluable in terms of all that has been learnt in the process – not only about the issue, but also about courage and co-creativity.

largest-social-movement_rally“Ordinary men, women and youngsters who are making changes in their minds, their lives and their communities”

A Simple Faith in the Goodness of Life

Still, it is easy to turn away from playing a part in the Great Turning. All of us are prey to the fear that it may be too late, and thus any effort is essentially hopeless. Any strategy we can mount seems so puny in comparison with the mighty systemic forces embedded in the military-industrial complex. The accelerating pace of destruction and contamination may already be taking us beyond those tipping points where ecological and social systems unravel irreparably.

Along with the Great Turning, the Great Unravelling is happening too, and there is no way to tell how the larger story will end.

So we learn again that hardest and most rewarding of lessons: how to make friends with uncertainty; how to pour your whole passion into a project when you can’t be sure it’s going to work. How to free yourself from dependence on seeing the results of your actions. These learnings are crucial, for living systems are ever unfolding in new patterns and connections. There is no point from which to foresee with clarity the possibilities to emerge under future conditions.

Instead of any blueprint of the future, we have this moment. In lieu of a sure-fire strategy to pull off the Great Turning, we can only fashion guidelines to help us keep going as best we can, and to stay on track with a simple faith in the goodness of life. Here are five of those guidelines that have already served a number of us over the years. Try them out, and make up some of your own.

1. Come from gratitude

We have received an inestimable gift: to be alive in this wondrous, self-organising universe with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it. And how amazing it is to be accorded a human life with self-reflective consciousness that allows us to make choices, letting us opt to take part in the healing of our world.

The very scope of the Great Turning is cause for gratitude as well, for it embraces the full gamut of human experience. Its three main dimensions include actions to slow down the destruction wrought by our political economy and its wars against humanity and Nature; new structures and ways of doing things, from holding land to growing food to generating energy; and a shift in consciousness to new ways of knowing, a new paradigm of our relation to each other and to the sacred living body of Earth. These dimensions are equally essential and mutually reinforcing. There are thousands of ways to take part in the Great Turning.

largest-social-movement_not-afraid“Be not afraid”

2. Don’t be afraid of the dark

This is a dark time filled with suffering, as old systems and previous certainties come apart. Like living cells in a larger body, we feel the trauma of our world. It is natural and even healthy that we do, for it shows we are still vitally linked in the web of life. So don’t be afraid of the grief you may feel, or of the anger or fear: these responses arise, not from some private pathology, but from the depths of our mutual belonging. Bow to your pain for the world when it makes itself felt, and honour it as testimony to our interconnectedness.

When the Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh was asked: “What do we most need to do to save our world?” his questioners expected him to identify the best strategies to pursue for social and environmental causes. But Thich Nhat Hanh answered:

“What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”

When we learn to hear that, we discover that our pain for the world and our love for the world are one. And we are made stronger.

3. Dare to vision

We will never bring forth what we haven’t dared to dream or learnt to imagine. For those of us dwelling in a high-tech consumer society, replete with ever proliferating electronic distractions, the imagination is the most underdeveloped, even atrophied, of our mental capacities. Yet never has its juicy, enlivening power been more desperately needed than now.

So, think of how many aspects of our current reality started out as someone’s dream. There was a time when much of America was a British colony, when women didn’t have the vote and when the slave trade was seen as essential to the economy. To change something, we need to hold the possibility that it could be different. Author and coach Stephen Covey reminds us:

“All things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.”

4. Link arms with others

Whatever it is that you’re drawn to do in the Great Turning, don’t even think of doing it alone. The hyper-individualism of our competitive industrialised culture has isolated people from each other, breeding conformity, obedience and an epidemic of loneliness. The good news of the Great Turning is that it is a team undertaking. It evolves out of countless spontaneous and synergistic interactions as people discover their common goal and their different gifts. Paul Hawken sees this amazing emergence at the grassroots level as an immune response of the living Earth to the crises now confronting us.

Many models of affinity groups and study-action have emerged in recent decades, offering methods for learning, strategising and working together. They help us uncover confidence in ourselves as well as in each other.

largest-social-movement_universe“You are as old as the universe”

5. Act your age

Now is the time to clothe ourselves in our true authority. Every particle in every atom of every cell in our body goes back to the primal flaring forth of space and time. In that sense you are as old as the universe, with an age of about 14 billion years. This current body of yours has been being prepared for this moment by Earth for some 4 billion years, so you have an absolute right to step forward and act on Earth’s behalf. When you are speaking up at a city council meeting, or protecting a forest from demolition, or testifying at a hearing on nuclear waste, you are doing that not out of some personal whim or virtue, but from the full authority of your 14 billion years.

The beauty of the Great Turning is that each of us takes part in distinctive ways. Given our different circumstances and with our different dispositions and capacities, our stories are all unique. All have something fresh to reveal. All can help inspire others. And that’s why we need these stories…

WORDS BY JOANNA MACY

This article is an edited excerpt from the introduction to Stories of the Great Turning, edited by Peter Reason and Melanie Newman, published by Vala Publications.

Violence is a Preventable Brain Disorder

Grille starts his talk at TEDX Pittwater. Robin Grille is a psychologist, author, educator and advocate for children who is not alone in his dream for a better world. For those interested, you will find that what he has to share is one of the most crucial keys to creating the future we aspire towards.

How do we unlock the peace code in the human brain and help it to find its’ full expression?

I had the pleasure of collaborating with Robin many years ago in promoting The Children’s Well-Being Manifesto, and his work continues to inspire great hope. For those in the UPLIFT community, the notion of creating a new story of healing is deeply entrenched and also backed by science as seen in the research of Bruce Lipton, PhD.

We literally have the ability to change the world we live in by addressing our core belief systems. This logic can be applied to our deeply held beliefs that human-beings are wired for violence, which the science of epigenetics refutes completely. Human behavior is much more a product of our environment and conditioning than it is dictated by genes. This points directly to child-rearing practices, and the ways that it affects the developing brain.

Harsh, punitive, and cold environments along with chronic stress cause the brain to release a neurotoxin known as cortisol. Cortisol literally destroys brain cells in the area of the brain connected to emotional regulation and impulse control causing the prefrontal lobes to atrophy. Whereas, loving supportive connection in a safe environment causes the brain to secrete oxytocin which developed these centers and cultivates the capacity for empathy, which is the neurological foundation for peace. The conclusion is that Violence is a Preventable Brain Disorder.

In his talk (below) Robin Grille also explores the fascinating historical and cultural roots of our story of violence along with a 7-step plan to re-write the code and create a peaceful planet where we are less violent to each other and towards our environment. In a recent uplift blog post titled, How to Stop the 6th Mass Extinction Bruce Lipton states:

…the realization that we can change the whole story right now. We don’t need to try to fight the old story. We simply need to walk outside the old story and build a new story. People will leave the old story when they see a new story working. Every individual who changes their own story, is changing the vibrational environment within which we live. We can have the spontaneous remission of the planet’s ills and we can change the environment by just changing who we are.

Clearly we are living in a potent time where science and spirituality give us the tools to change our ways of creating and interacting with the world around us. Please make some time in your day to watch this enlightening talk and share the inspiration with your networks. More importantly, make the effort to help that single-parent in your community and open your heart to embrace the children in your life with love, connection, support, and safety!

Tesla’s Model X SUV is finally here, and it’s as wonderful as we’d hoped

The world’s first luxury electric SUV is gorgeous. It’s futuristic. And once again, Tesla Motors is redefining the electric vehicle.

The Silicon Valley automaker has teased us for years with the Model X, and tonight it finally gave the world its first look at the production model, then handed six customers the keys.

Those people now own a $130,000 electric vehicle that will go 250 miles on a charge, carry seven people and haul more stuff than anyone but a hoarder might want with him. And although the X shares much of its DNA with the impressive Model S P90D sedan, in many ways it eclipses that phenomenal car. It’s not just the design, which is futuristic without being weird. It’s not just the performance, which is holy shit fast. And it’s not even the dramatic “falcon” doors that lift like the wings of a bird.

It’s how all of those features come together in a vehicle that somehow makes an SUV not just cool, but desirable.

But then, that’s what Tesla does.

“The mission of Tesla is to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport,” CEO Elon Musk said at the car’s reveal, held at the company’s factory in Fremont, California. “It’s important to know that any kind of car can go electric.”

Complications

Reaching this point has been a longer journey than Elon Musk hoped. This is the car that’s supposed to prove his company is more than a one hit wonder, and an interlude before the long-awaited Model III brings a $35,000 EV to the masses in 2017.

Musk unveiled a prototype X in 2012, saying production would begin the following year. He later pushed that to 2014, which came and went with a promise that we’d see the X this year. But then that’s Musk-he often makes big promises with short timelines, which might explain why he told us tonight that if he had it to do over again, he’d have made the X less complicated and therefore easier to engineer and build.

Be that as it may, the car is here, and first impressions suggest it was worth the wait. If you order one today, though, you’ll have to wait a while longer: Tesla estimates it’ll take 8 to 12 months to deliver cars ordered now.

Complexities

The X is, in a word, stunning. Its most amazing features are its mind-bending acceleration, gorgeous design, and amazing rear passenger doors. Tesla calls them “falcon” doors, because they lift like the wings of a bird. And because it sounds cool.

The big drawback of doors that open like wings-the Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS has them, as did the DeLorean-is they require a lot of room to open, so you’re always worried about hitting something. Tesla got around this by double-hinging the doors, and fitting each with an ultrasonic sensor and putting a third on the roof. They scan the area around the vehicle to determine how much space there is, then adjust the “span” and open accordingly.

It sounds complicated as hell, and it is, but it works beautifully. Tesla engineers say the doors can open with as little as 12 inches on each side of the vehicle-then proved it by having us park between two cars. The mirrors on the X were mere inches from those of the car on either side, yet the doors opened flawlessly. Capacitive sensors in the edges of each door sense obstacles within 2 to 4 inches, so you don’t have to worry about a descending door whacking your head or crushing your fingers.

All of this may sound like a frivolous extravagance, and in some ways it is-and you know part of the reason Musk wanted these doors was to prove he could make them-but it’s remarkably clever, even practical.

Unless you regularly haul enough cattle to supply all the leather in this thing, space is not a problem.

Yes, practical. The doors make it easy to get in and out of the vehicle. No gymnastic contortions to get into the (standard) third row seating. No more cantilevering yourself to get your kids into their child seats. No more playing Tetris trying to get your stuff in. Just throw open those doors-actually, push a button and let the doors lift automatically, in 6 to 7 seconds-throw in your groceries and bags and whatnot, and climb in after it.

Speaking of stuff, the X is cavernous. No one could tell us the internal volume-you’d think someone at Tesla would have had that figure-but one engineer said you could carry a sheet of plywood. Another said the X would easily swallow a surfboard. And yet another said you could carry a load of two-by-fours. Suffice it to say, this thing will swallow as much cargo as any normal person would carry. Tesla offers an accessory hitch that holds four bikes or six pairs of skis, and can be attached to the back of the car in just a few seconds.

Should you somehow manage to run out of room, the Model X has Class 3 towing capacity, which in lay terms means it’ll haul 5,000 pounds.

In other words, unless you regularly haul enough cattle to supply all the leather in this thing, space is not a problem.

Cavernous

Another clever trick is the “monopost” design of the second-row seats, which is fancy way of saying that each seat (two if you get the six-passenger model, three if you get the seven), sits on its own chrome-plated post. That makes each seat almost infinitely adjustable fore and aft and provides ample room for everyone’s feet. The designers drew inspiration from high-end office chairs and admit they were, like the doors, a bitch to engineer.

Along with the doors and the seats, Musk is especially proud of the “panoramic” windshield, which extends back over the front seat seats to provide an exceptional view. Tesla claims it is the largest windshield ever installed in a production vehicle-yet, oddly, no one had actually measured the damn thing and so couldn’t say exactly how big it is.

Inside, the X is futuristic without being funky, with acres of white leather, plenty of cubbies and cupholders, and that enormous 17-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash.

Whatever the number, we can tell you that if you look at the X head-on, it appears to have a glass roof, and riding up front almost like being in a convertible.

Equally impressive is the sound system which is, in a word, glorious. But then, with 560 watts and 17 speakers, how could it not be? Tesla designed the system in-house specifically for the X because it wanted to ensure the system delivered the best sound with the smallest power requirements-essential in an electric vehicle. (General Motors took a similar tack with the Chevrolet Volt, tapping Bose to design a system specifically for the car.) The sound is crisp, clear, and loud-even when standing 15 feet away from the car.

The styling is perhaps best described as a Model S on steroids. It’s a taller, obviously, and, at 5,441 pounds, about 740 pounds heavier than the S. That said, it also looks more than a little like the BMW X6 from the rear three-quarter view-but when it glides by you silently on the freeway, you’ll know it’s a Tesla.

Inside, the X is futuristic without being funky, with acres of white leather, plenty of cubbies and cupholders, and that enormous 17-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash.

Competition

Although the X is the first electric luxury SUV, it won’t be alone for long. Bentley promises a plug-in hybrid version of its new, ultra-luxe Bentayga SUV in about a year. Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini have hinted at similar plans. Last month, Audi showed off an all-electric crossover concept that’s probably a preview of the 2019 Q6. Aston Martin wants to have one ready in two years.

If you decide to stomp on the accelerator, make damn sure you’ve got plenty of open road ahead of you.

No one at Tesla would say just what performance, handling, and comfort benchmarks they aimed at with the X, but they’re well aware of everyone’s plans and not terribly worried. And the fact they had a Porsche Cayenne and a BMW X5 in the parking lot for comparison suggests they’re quite confident of the Model X’s sporting capabilities.

They have every reason to be.

Let’s start with the acceleration. It’s crazy. Every Model X comes with a 90 kilowatt-hour battery and dual motors, a model known as 90D. Drop another 10 grand and you get the P90D, which is the performance model with its “ludicrous mode.” Yes, Tesla actually calls it that, and it’s fitting. If you decide to stomp on the accelerator, make damn sure you’ve got plenty of open road ahead of you, because things happen very quickly. Sixty mph comes in 3.2 seconds, which is on par with the some of the best sports cars from anyone in Italy, Germany, or Britain. We tried it. That number’s legit.

We didn’t have the room to do a quarter-mile run, but Tesla says the Model X P90D will do it in 11.7 seconds. That put its alongside cars like the BMW M5, Corvette Z06, and Porsche Panamera Turbo. Top speed is limited to 155 mph.

If you find ludicrous mode just a bit too, well, ludicrous, or you don’t want to spend that extra dough, the base model adds about half a second to the acceleration and quarter-mile times. Which is to say, it’s still bloody fast. The Model X 90D starts for $132,000 and goes 257 miles on a charge, the more acceleration-friendly P90D will cost you $142,000 and cover 250 miles.

Under the skin, the Model X is identical to the Model S. Same 90 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery. Same drive motors (259 horsepower at the front, 503 at the rear). Same software controlling it all. And the vehicles share the same (semi) autonomous capabilities.

The two vehicles both “quick charge” at one of Tesla’s stations in 30 minutes. They are designed to be updated in tandem, so any software updates or performance upgrades will apply to both the S and the X. And they will roll down the same assembly line at Tesla’s sprawling factory in Fremont. The company plans to ramp up production, immediately, but wouldn’t say how many might be built by the end of the year.

Of all the things that, at first glance, make the X so remarkable, the most impressive thing about it is the overall impression it imparts. It’s a practical car-Musk has five young children, and clearly considers the demands of hauling them all when designing vehicles-but it’s not a minivan or station wagon that embarrasses parents and kids alike.

Tesla has made the family car cool.