Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why Gyro Cars? An end of year reflection

If you are reading this blog or have visited my gyro-car pages at cobb.com you probably have some interest in gyro stabilized ground transportation technology, typically vehicles that stay upright through the use of gyroscopes. A classic example is the Gyro-X, seen above as it appeared in a 1967 article in Science and Mechanics, a collaboration between famed automotive designer Alex Tremuls (the Cord, the '33 Duesenberg, and the Tucker) and pioneering gyrodynamist Thomas O. Summers, Jr (holder of more than four dozen gyro-related patents). Yet more classic, and proving that there are very few 'new' ideas, is Schilovski's 1914 Wolsely seen here.
There have also been railway trains designed to run on one rail. But why go this route? The article on the Gyro-X covers many of the reasons, broadly stated as more efficient. You can go faster with less power, further with less fuel. Both wind resistance and rolling resistance of the rubber on the road can be significantly reduced with the inline, two-wheel design.

Another factor cited by Science and Mechanics is the potential to use a gyro as a sort of flywheel, a source of energy. It sounds as though the designers of the Gyro-X were considering using the kinetic energy stored in the 250 pound flywheel to temporarily boost the power available to the vehicle's drive train. Remember, that article was published in America in 1967, here cars were all about performance. But it is only a short step from the power boost idea to an energy-saving idea my father had forty years ago: reclaim energy from braking by transferring it to a flywheel. In fact. buses that used flywheels as their energy source were ince used in Europe.

In WWII my father worked with gyros used on battleships to stabilized the big guns. He knew that they were an efficient way to store energy as well as keep things upright. Once the rotating mass was up to speed it could be kept there with small amounts of incremental energy.

This opens several fruitful avenues of thought relative to the main automotive challenge today: fuel economy. Given the high cost of batteries used in electric vehicles, why not use a flywheel instead, one that could be topped up by braking? For longer distance driving a small diesel motor could top up power in the flywheel. And since you have a flywheel, why not drop two of the wheels and use the flywheel to hold the thing up? Come on car designers and engineers. It is now 40 years since the Gyro-X appeared. Time to update the design, think outside the box and save the world from fossil fuels!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cost of Diesel Dampens Hopes

While the price of diesel fuel is not directly related to gyroscopically stabilized transportation, it does raise questions about efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of the transportation system and reduce dependence on foreign fuel.

My wife and I own a diesel-powered Jeep Liberty which we like a lot, but the high price of diesel in the U.S. is really making it hard to justify. We regularly see diesel sold for a premium of around 35 cents per gallon over regular unleaded gasoline. In rough terms this means a diesel vehicle has to get 26 miles per gallon versus 22 for a gasoline model, or 35 versus 30. In other words, the economic incentive to use deal just isn't there is diesel is priced significantly higher than regular gasoline.

In thinking about this problem I visited the EPA site fueleconomy.gov which has a cool feature that let's you compare vehicles. I commared a diesel Jeep with a gasoline Jeep, and at first it seemed the diesel was a better deal. But then I noticed the figures that the EPA used for fuel costs. They were not what I am seeing at the pump. Fortunately, and this was a smart move by the site designer, you can input your own numbers. That produced the following:

The diesel is $60 a year cheaper. Hardly enough incentive to overcome the downsides (such as searching for a gas station that carries diesel).

Maybe the new rules on diesel fuel will improve matters and the price will be equalized, but right now there seems to be a pause in diesel production as manufacturers switch over to the new designs (for an explanation, see here and also here).

That means you can't buy 2007 Jeep Liberty diesel right now. But Jeep Grand Cherokee diesels will turn up in showrooms later this year. Sadly, if diesel/gas pricing does not move closer to par, the economic incentive to buy them will not be there when they do.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Where Have All the Segways Gone?

On a couple of recent business trips I saw several groups of Segways, leading me to rethink my notion that this device was something of a flop (and thus not a good omen for other gyroscopically stabilized forms of transportation).

First LA, where the Segway is used on the Universal Studios complex. I stayed a few nights at the large Hilton there and saw staff using the Segway to speed up trips between different parts of the very large property. I also noted that you can rent Segways in Santa Monica.

Then I was in Chicago, again staying at a Hilton, from where I spotted what appeared to be a US Postal Service Segway training class headed down Michigan Avenue. Looked a bit like robotic ducklings following their mother. I tried to capture the scene on my Treo's camera but no luck.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Segway Recall

A broad definition of "gyroscopically stabilized vehicle" might include the Segway. It certainly illustrates some of the questions that arise from gyro control of ground transportation systems, such as "What happens when the gyro control fails?" In the case of the Segway, the answer would seen to be "You fall off."

Falling off a Segway is apparently a real problem and a large recall was recently issued as a result. And it not the first. For more discussion check here.

Another question raised by the Segway is "Why?" I guess I am one of those people who just doesn't see the point of the Segway. I grant that it is an impressive technological achievement, but so was the hovercraft. That doesn't automatically make the technological useful (try running a hovercraft on a dry day in the country and you will find out how dusty the great outdoors really is). Maybe I will post at greater length on this issue. In the meantime checkout this great page on building a balancing scooter.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Some of the gyro sites

Here is a very cursory list of sites that have gryo car info:

This is a very useful collection but it would be nice if they acknowledged that they took the scans of the Gyro-X car from my site. [Note: I humbly stand corrected by site owner Douglas Self--he assures me, and I concur, that he obtained the material quite independently of my efforts--and I applaud his continuing efforts to marshal more of the historical data regarding these vehicles].

For example, Douglas has the best collection of data available--to the best of my knowledge--on the amazing Schilovski car.

More on the Schilovski car via the Wolesley UK connection.

Info about a gyroscopically stabilized car in the sixities by inventor Louis Swinney.

More info about same vehicle, actually written by the inventor.

The "large wheel" approach to a gyro car, nicely illustrated.

Wikipedia entry for the Ford Gyron.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Finally found some time to blog gyro cars

Okay,

It looks like I might have found some time to blog the gyro car happenings. I continue to get email from people with questions about gyro cars and the price of petrol keeps fuelling interest in ANY way to burn less fuel. Obviously, some of the appeal of gryoscopically stabilized vehicles is the sheer coolness of riding on two wheels instead of 4 (or 3). But one of the main incentives to develop this type of transportation is the energy-savings inherent in the design. Now that people are finally giving electric vehicles a chance, maybe gyro cars will start to appear on our roads (maybe it was my earlier experiences with electric vehicles that makes me hopeful--I drove an electric truck for several months back in 1971, delivering milk, running for 8 hours at up to 35 miles per hour, with no fumes, no ignition, and almost no noise).

Welcome to the Gyro Car Blog...visit the gyrocar.info site when you get a chance. There is no much there yet, but I hope to expand it soon.

Stephen