Monday, December 4, 2017

Should I Buy Another Chevy?

Likely, at least in part, due to the 1973-74 oil embargo (I turned 16 in 1973) followed shortly by the second oil crisis in 1979 (the year I graduated from college) I’ve always had a passion for small economical cars.  My first new car purchase in 1980 was a Chevy Chevette (remember those?) that I babied and coddled – always Mobile 1 synthetic, washed, waxed…….. until the motor blew up in 1982 on Route 128 in Massachusetts one morning during rush hour……. I can still picture the motor parts in the rear view mirror...... I had the motor replaced (Chevy was great about that) but I continued to have problems – the car was so poorly designed and built it was literally falling apart. Swearing off American cars for life it was Japanese autos after that – a couple of Datsun (now Nissan) vehicles, a Honda and then a couple of Toyota products.

Well, these days nothing lasts forever and I’ve actually been looking at couple of Chevy electrics – the Volt and the Bolt. I’m especially impressed with the Bolt, the car General Motors has been using the past few years as its primary autonomous-driving testbed. Last week GM unveiled the latest version of the Bolt, with an EPA-rated 238-mile range and a base price of $37,495. 

Looking at older autonomous model Bolts - the lidar units were mounted on roof mounted rods and the car had sensors stuffed into drilled and cut holes in the body. The new autonomous Bolt has sensors hidden in the bumpers and fenders and the lidar unit is hidden in the roof rack. The new model appears to be a huge step up.

How did GM move so fast? The company acquired San Francisco startup Cruise Automation last year for $581 million. Cruise Automation was started by Kyle Vogt and he came along with the acquisition to head up GM’s automation efforts. Vogt has an interesting background, having  cofounded Twitch, a streaming service used by video gamers to watch others play video gamesAmazon bought Twitch in 2014 for $1.1 billion and Vogt was on to his next big idea, originally thinking his new company would develop portable driverless software that could be attached to almost any vehicle. First experimenting with Audis and Nissan Leafs, he realized it would be much easier to build the technology directly into a car’s onboard controls and the Bolt was the only car suitable to do that.

Cruise Automation headquarters remains in San Francisco and, with GM backing, Vogt has grown the company from 40 software and mechanical engineers to over 400. He’s also bought lidar maker Strobe, claiming this will cut spending on laser gear 99 percent.

GM has big plans for the Bolt, intending to use them as the backbone of a robo-taxi business it plans to start in 2019.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Automobile USB Phone Charging

It's nice day for a ride to the beach. You grab your stuff jump and in the car. Ooops - last night you forgot to charge your phone and you've only got about 30% but...... No worries, the beach is a 90 minute drive away which should be more than enough time for your phone to charge.

Fast forward - phone GPS running and some tunes along the way. Park the car, grab your phone and...... #$%@* only 25% charged??  It was plugged in for the entire drive?! You checked it when you plugged it in and the phone was properly connected.

You've been Auto USB'd!

What Happened?
 If your car has a USB port built in - that port is most likely low power, only delivering around .5 Amps. This is considerably less than your phone charging capacity and because you were using the phone GPS, playing some tunes, etc...... well, you get the idea. And if you were using one of those cheapo cigarette lighter adaptor chargers, it is also probably only delivering only around .5 Amps of charging current. The cheap plug ins can get even worse - if you've got one of them with  two USB ports and have a couple of phones plugged in, that .5 Amps total gets split to .25 Amps on each port.

How Much Do You Need?
How much current do you need to get full charging capacity for most phones these days? It depends on the device. Let's use the iPhone as an example - those white chargers that come with the phone are rated at 1 Amp. So, on your drive with GPS running, Bluetooth - and maybe you forgot to switch WiFi off when in the car - your USB adapter .5 Amps of charging current could not keep up with what the phone was drawing, never mind charge it.

What's The Solution? 
To get a quick charge on your phone with a low current adapter probably the best thing to do is to power the phone off when charging. That may not be an option though.

Some of the auto manufactures are putting higher capacity USB ports in cars but that does not help most of us driving older cars. 

If you want to charge your phone and do not want to buy a new car you can purchase a higher current plug in USB charger. Wirecutter has a nice review of some of these chargers here. A little searching on Amazon brings up a bunch of them too - be sure to check the output current per USB port and compare it to what your phone needs. They're a little more expensive than the $2 ones you see in the supermarket checkout line but worth it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Future of Wireless is Fiber

Cactus Cell Tower
(Image source:
I wrote this on Monday for the National Center for Optics and Photonics August 2017 Newsletter:

In the next few years wireless providers are planning the broad deployment of 5G wireless services. Here’s some details:
  • Current International Telecommunication Union (ITU) specifications for 5G specify a total download capacity of at least 20Gbps and 10Gbps uplink per mobile base station.
  • In contrast, the peak data rate for current LTE cells is about 1Gbps.
  • Under ideal circumstances, 5G networks will offer users a maximum latency of just 4ms, down from about 20ms on LTE 4G networks.
  • The 5G specification also calls for a latency of just 1ms for a stepped up service called ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC).
In support of the Internet of Things, 5G must also support at least 1 million connected devices per square kilometer (0.38 square miles). This may seem like a lot but when every traffic light, parking space, and vehicle is 5G-enabled, we'll easily start to hit that kind of connection density and will see 5G towers on places like major highways every 100 feet or so.

How is connectivity delivered these days to wireless towers, and how will it be delivered in the future? Fiber! 

5G networks will be predominantly fiber-based due to the combination of tower capacity and distance requirements. We will see limited microwave antennas used in niche cases when fiber is not an option. Technicians will need to have a good understanding of fiber characterization testing and troubleshooting as these super-fast high capacity networks roll out. In addition, skills in troubleshooting dirty or damaged connectors, tight fiber bends, faulty fiber splices, Optical Time Domain Reflectometry (OTDR), attenuation, and chromatic and polarization mode dispersion will become even more critical. 

Fiber to the tower is a critical enabler of 5G wireless services including The Internet of Things. 

For more information see Preparing the Transport Network for 5G: The Future Is Fiber and check out the rest of the OP-TEC August 2017 edition and previous monthly newsletters here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wisconsin and Taiwan's Foxconn

There is currently a lot of chatter about the Wisconsin / Taiwan Foxconn deal. Here’s some information on the company:
  • Foxconn is a Taiwanese multinational electronics contract manufacturing company headquartered in Tucheng, New Taipei, Taiwan.
  • Foxconn currently has 12 factories in nine Chinese cities along with factories in Asia, Brazil, Europe, and Mexico.
  • The company is the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer by revenue that, as of 2012, produced approximately 40 percent of all consumer electronics products sold.
  • Foxconn is the largest private employer in China and one of the largest employers worldwide.
  • Major customers comprise all the biggies including Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, Google, and Dell.
  • In reaction to a spate of worker suicides in which 14 people died in 2010, a report from 20 Chinese universities described Foxconn factories as labor camps and detailed widespread worker abuse and illegal overtime. The company claims these issues have been resolved.
And here’s a quick summary of the deal as it currently stands based on what I’m reading:
  • The complex will be located at a 1,000-acre site in southeastern Wisconsin.
  • This will be the first liquid crystal display manufacturing facility in North America and that has environmentalists a little freaked out.
  • It will take four years to build and will employ up to 10,000 construction workers over those four years.
  • The factory floor area will cover 20 million square feet.
  • Up to 13,000 workers could eventually be employed and paid an average of $53,875 a year, plus benefits.
  • Will generate estimated $181 million in state and local tax revenue annually, including $60 million in local property taxes.
  • Wisconsin will kick in $3 billion in state incentives over 15 years.
  • Wisconsin is not projected to break even on the incentive package for at least 25 years (that's 2042).
These projections factor in the maximum of 13,000 workers along with thousands of indirect jobs associated with the project, which Wisconsin officials have said will solidify the Foxconn project as a net win. Foxconn also say they are planning a research and development facility for autonomous vehicle components in Michigan.