All posts by Manuel Richardson

A future colorfully lit by mystifying physics of paint-on semiconductors

It defies conventional wisdom about semiconductors. It’s baffling that it even works. It eludes physics models that try to explain it. This newly tested class of light-emitting semiconductors is so easy to produce from solution that it could be painted onto surfaces to light up our future in myriad colors shining from affordable lasers, LEDs, and even window glass.

Piezomagnetic material changes magnetic properties when stretched

Piezoelectric materials, which generate an electric current when compressed or stretched, are familiar and widely used: lighters that spark when you press a switch, microphones, sensors, motors and all kinds of other devices. Now a group of physicists has found a material with a similar property, but for magnetism. This ‘piezomagnetic’ material changes its magnetic properties when put under mechanical strain.

Two better than one: Chemists advance sustainable battery technology

Chemists describe design and synthesis of a pi-conjugation-extended viologen molecule as a novel, two-electron storage anolyte for neutral total organic aqueous redox flow batteries.

Ford takes aim at Toyota’s hybrid market lead with its new SUV lineup

Ford detailed a bunch of its roadmap for the next few years at a special media event today, and one of the key takeaways is that it’s going all-in on hybrids with its SUV lineup. Ford estimates that SUVs could make up as much as half the entire U.S. industry retail market by 2020, and that’s why it’s shifting $7 billion in investment capital from its cars business over to the SUV segment. By 2020, Ford also aims to have high-performance SUVs in market, including five with hybrid powertrains and one fully battery electric model.

These will include brand new versions of the Ford Escape and Ford Explorer that are coming next year, and two entirely new off-road SUVs, including a new Bronco, and a small SUV that has yet to be named. There’s also that “performance battery electric utility” that will make up part of its overall SUV lineup, which is set for a 2020 release and will spearhead a plan to release six electric vehicle models by 2022.

With this big hybrid push on the SUV side, Ford expects to go from second to first-place in the U.S. hybrid vehicles market by sales, surpassing current leader Toyota by 2021, thanks also to the forthcoming hybrid Mustang and F-150.

A new use for graphene: Making better hair dyes

Graphene, a naturally black material, could provide a new strategy for dyeing dark hair that will make it less prone to staticky flyaways. Researchers have put it to the test. They used sheets of graphene to make a dye that adheres to the surface of hair, forming a coating that is resistant to 30 washes without the need for chemicals that damage the hair cuticle.

Existence of new form of electronic matter

Researchers have produced a ‘human scale’ demonstration of a new phase of matter called quadrupole topological insulators that was recently predicted using theoretical physics. These are the first experimental findings to validate this theory.

Volkswagen has locked down $25B in battery supplies for its electric vehicle push

 Automaker Volkswagen’s ramping up for its big EV push, with $25 billion in committed battery supplies and plans to outfit 16 factories to build electric cars by the end of 2022, up from three with that capacity in the VW stable right now. Thus far, Volkswagen’s focus is on battery suppliers in Europe and China, its two largest markets, and likely the two that will be most important… Read More

Riding the (quantum magnetic) wave

Scientists have shown that an organic-based magnet can carry waves of quantum mechanical magnetization, called magnons, and convert those waves to electrical signals. It’s a breakthrough for the field of magnonics (electronic systems that use magnons instead of electrons) because magnons had previously been sent through inorganic materials that are more difficult to handle.

Across the metal-molecule interface: Observing fluctuations on the single-molecule scale

Scientists have developed a technique for analyzing structural and electronic fluctuations on the single-molecule scale across the metal-molecule interface in an organic electronic device. This technique provides information that cannot be obtained using the conventional method, and it has important implications for devices such as organic solar cells.

The Tesla Model 3 is a love letter to the road

Tesla’s Model 3 is making progress heading out to customers (though not as much as either Tesla or those on the waiting list would like) and as a result, we got a chance to spend some time in one of the new production models that just rolled off the line. The Model 3 is a much more affordable car from Tesla than either its Model S or Model X, and it hopes to one day achieve true mass market success.

Tesla managed to amass somewhere around 500,000 pre-orders for the car, so it’s definitely a hotly anticipated item. This is the kind of enthusiasm generally reserved not for vehicles, but for high demand consumer electronics. Make no mistake, however: The Model 3 is a car first, and a gadget second, and probably the most fun you can buy on four wheels on real roads at this price point.

As equipped, the Model 3 we test drove had a retail price of around $57,500, which includes all the upgrade options, Autopilot and longer driving range thanks to an enhanced battery pack. It also includes a panorama-style all glass roof and leather-appointed seating. For the time being, the extended range option is the only choice for new Model 3 buyers (the basic model will be available once there’s more production volume), so at the very least your starting price is going to be $44,000 for now.

That puts the car in a class with other entry level luxury vehicles like the BMW 530e hybrid, for instance, so it’s not exactly an ‘affordable’ car in the traditional sense. But it’s still potentially going to be able to net you some tax incentives, and it’s about half the price of a similarly appointed Model S or Model X.

And while driving the Model S and Model X is definitely a different experience, there’s a lot more similarity between driving one of those and driving the Model 3 than you might expect.

The all-electric rear-wheel drive powertrain, which provides instant acceleration that feels like more power than you have any right to expect from this kind of car. To me, its acceleration felt more manageable than the truly awesome amount of power present on the Tesla Model X P100D I tested out last month – but still truly thrilling measured on any scale.

In fact, the most fun I had with the Model 3 while testing the car was in driving it up and down a windy road with a few clear straightaways in a sleepy Northern California rural town. The roadway was empty save for me and the Model 3, and I got the chance to see how it did getting up to 60 from a stop start, and how it handles those curves. Bottom line: It’s quick to achieve speed, and it hugs the road like it’s glued to the thing (the bottom-heavy design thanks to the battery pack helps), so you can really take the corners in stride.

On the highway, the quick acceleration helps when you’re dealing with tricky merges, and of course the Model 3 has Autopilot on board, which works just as it does in other vehicles in Tesla’s lineup. It’s a godsend in California traffic, and likely just as effective anywhere you’re stuck with stop-and-go freeway or highway driving.

Driving is where the Tesla Model 3 excels the most, which is why I wanted to lead with that in this review – this is a driver’s car, built not just for people who know they love to drive, but also for people who might not be aware of how much fun it can be, especially if you’ve never had the pleasure of using a vehicle with an electric powertrain before. Cars including the BMW i3, the Chevrolet Bolt, the Tesla Model S and Model X, and now the Model 3 have all ruined me for internal combustion engine cars: One you’ve gone electric, you can’t really go back.

The Model 3 also does as much as possible to draw focus to the driving experience. In large part, this is due to the spare cockpit design, which moves all instrumentation and information display to the single, 16-inch touchscreen panel mounted in the center of the dash. This screen is occupied on the left third by key information relevant to the driver (and indeed sits just in your peripheral view while looking straight out the windshield) and the remaining two-thirds is taken up by information display about routing, media, car settings and more.

It’s a bit of a mixed blessing in terms of a vehicle interface: On the one hand, it’s terrific to have an unobstructed view of the road – it’s as pure as driving experience as rolling down the track in the soapbox derby car of your youth, and it really leaves you feeling connected to the road itself. The effect is aided by the lack of any obvious vents, since the dash has one full-length break that handles all of the air circulation by pitting two air foils against one another to direct air very precisely where you want it to go.

The steering wheel is still there, of course, and it features a stock-mounted lever for putting the car into drive, reverse and park, and for controlling Autopilot if enabled. The wheel also has two multipurpose, multidirectional controllers both right and left of center. The left controls volume and track skipping, as well as play/pause for media by default. The right doesn’t do anything by default right now, but Tesla is considering using it for managing speed when Autopilot is engaged (currently handled via touchscreen).

Those two controls are contextually variable, so they can control the angle of your rear view mirrors when you’re adjusting those via the center screen, for instance. Tesla left them unlabeled by design because they wanted them to be flexible, and in general it seems like a good idea, if it still needs a bit of working out in terms of how it works in practice.

The Model 3’s biggest weakness, overall, is the touchscreen interface. It’s actually an excellent touchscreen, with very responsive scrolling and touch detection, smooth animations and zero missed taps during my usage. The problem is that there’s a lot to wade through to find just what you’re looking for, and it doesn’t do enough to simplify and declutter the experience for use specifically while driving.

I actually got used to a lot of the system’s quirks quicker than I thought I would, but it’s still definitely something where I would’ve appreciated a few physical controls for specific functions, including windshield wipers, even if it spoiled the cockpit’s otherwise excellent minimalist design.

That’s actually the only real issue I had with the Model 3 during testing, and it was not negative enough that it would prevent me from buying one of these, were I in the market for a new car, with available funds and availability of stock on Tesla’s end. This is easily the most fun car I’ve driven in this price range that I can recall, and while occasionally clunky, the touchscreen didn’t impede my enjoyment or my ability to drive the vehicle safely at any time during testing.

Other reviewers have noted some problems with body panel fit and finish on their review cars; Tesla said mine was freshly entered into the press fleet, so that might be why I didn’t notice any of said problems, but I genuinely didn’t see any of those flaws even if they existed. Tesla’s biggest issue with this vehicle is that it can’t make enough to come anywhere close to satisfying demand. The Model 3 is finally in more showrooms across the country, but it’s still going to take a while to satisfy existing orders, let alone to begin filling new ones.

The bottom line is that if you need a car in the next few years or so but you’re happy to wait (potentially) that long, it might be worth putting up a down payment to save your spot in line. The Model 3 is a solid piece of eccentric joy in a market filled with staid and boring choices.

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