Xcience Newsletter March 2017


Image Credit: GATEway/Oxbotica

 A Car With Brains

Control of robotic vehicles depends on the software and hardware ‘brain’. A spin-out from Oxford University, Oxbotica, has developed an autonomous control system called Selenium which can work on any vehicle, including forklifts and cargo pods [1]. The software takes inputs from lasers and cameras to calculate the optimum route, and the technology is running on Oxbotica’s fleet of vehicles, a delivery van, the ESA Mars Rover, and the £8 million GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) project in London. The GATEway project will run 8 driverless pods, which look very similar to those developed by Professor Martin Green at Bristol University, as used at Heathrow T5. The system computes three parameters: 1/ Where am I? - Using cameras and lasers to precisely locate without GPS; 2/ What’s around me? Using sensors and algorithms to identify and track pedestrians, cars and other obstacles in the environment; 3/ What do I do next? Calculates a safe and efficient route to drive to the destination. NB: Check out the ‘Rate My Driving’ sticker above.

Graphene Quantum Dots

QDs are the basis for many LED displays and lighting. Dotz Nano claim that their new graphene QDs overcome some of the shortcomings of conventional materials, such as reliably achieving blue light. Their initial target application is, surprisingly, optical brighteners for textiles. Fluorophores easily wash out and hence are relatively ineffective, whereas Dotz Nano are looking to incorporate GQDs onto the fibres. Anti-counterfeiting is one of the future potential application. The technology was spun out of Rice University in 2014 by Professor James Tour.



The headline of ‘London to Manchester in 18 minutes’ is quite an eye-catcher (NB: has anyone has calculated how many ‘G’ you pull accelerating and decelerating?). Of course, it is Elon Musk’s latest project, and those old enough to remember the capsules put into vacuum tubes that shops used to take cash from the tills to the cash office will guess how this works – by giant vacuum tubes. Arup have been doing a feasibility study for the UK, but a working demonstrator has yet to be built, so early days.


Glass Battery

Not many people realise that the Lithium Ion battery was invented at University of Oxford by US scientist Professor John Goodenough. Now based at the University of Texas and aged 94, he is still inventing. His new battery uses a solid glass electrolyte which conducts ions rather than a liquid electrolyte. He commented: "Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted. We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries".  

Electronic Wind

This story, I admit, had me pondering for a while. Researchers at KTH have developed a system to create an electronic wind around heavy good vehicles to reduce wind resistance. The system uses plasma high voltage electrodes or ‘actuators’ to charge the air, which is accelerated forming an electronic ‘wind’. This causes vortices, which in conditions such as cross winds, allows control of the air flow and boundary layer around the truck resulting in reduced drag. The outcome is a 5% reduction in fuel consumption.

More info…

  1. http://www.oxbotica.com