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Charging a car could soon be as quick as filling a tank
by Brooks Hays
Lausanne, Switzerland (UPI) Jan 20, 2016

General Motors revs ride-sharing tech with Sidecar
San Francisco (AFP) Jan 20, 2016 - Fresh from taking a $500 million stake in ride-sharing service Lift, US auto giant General Motors has bought assets and hired employees from an Uber competitor that ran out of gas.

GM on Tuesday said that it snapped workers and technology from ride-sharing and deliver service Sidecar, revving its drive into a future of autonomous on-demand cars.

"In connection with Sidecar ceasing operations, we can confirm that we have attracted Sidecar employees to be integrated into the GM urban mobility team, and acquired certain related assets, for work on our global mobility programs," a GM spokesman said in response to an AFP inquiry.

GM declined to disclose any other details.

San Francisco-based Sidecar was founded about five years ago and competed with Uber and Lyft in the on-demand, ride-sharing market.

In December, Sidecar put out word that it was ending its ride-sharing and delivery service in the face of better-funded rivals.

That same month, GM announced a $500 million stake in Lyft as part of a "strategic alliance."

GM will be the preferred provider of cars to Lyft drivers through short-term rental hubs, and allow Lyft drivers and customers to connect through GM's OnStar information technology services, according to the companies.

The two will also jointly develop a network of self-driving vehicles available on-demand for customers.

"We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous," GM President Dan Ammann said when the alliance was announced.

"With GM and Lyft working together, we believe we can successfully implement this vision more rapidly."

Lyft vies with industry leader Uber in ride-hailing services which have undercut taxi services in many countries but also allowed many more people access to on-demand transportation without owning their own vehicles.

Ride-sharing services typically let people use smartphone applications to summon cars owned and operated by people who sign on as drivers.

GM meanwhile is working on developing autonomous cars.

Engineers say the power grid is holding back the development of the electric car. The storage capacity of batteries are continuously improving, as are the speed at which they can be charged and discharged.

But high capacity, fast-charging batteries require large amounts of power to charge. Current infrastructure for electric car changing isn't up to the task.

To supply that charge, a team of researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, have developed an intermediary power storage device. The technology can quickly charge a car without putting a drain on the power grid.

The goal is to make charging an electric car battery as quick and easy as filling up a tank with gas.

"We came up with a system of intermediate storage," Alfred Rufer, a researcher in EPFL's Industrial Electronics Lab, said in a press release. "With this buffer storage, charging stations can be disconnected from the grid while still providing a high charge level for cars."

The intermediate storage device is essentially a giant battery, a lithium iron battery the size of a shipping container. It's constantly pulling power slowly from the power grid. When it's time, it can transfer a large amount of power to the car's battery.

Right now, the device can charge the standard electric car battery in 15 minutes.

"Our aim was to get under the psychological threshold of a half hour," said Massimiliano Capezzali, deputy director of the EPFL Energy Center and leader of the research project. "But there is room for improvement."

As part of the project, researchers built models to predict the ways gas stations will need to adapt as gas-powered cars are phased out and replaced by large fleets of electric cars.

The numbers suggest a station charging 200 cars per day would require a buffer storage capacity of 2.2 megawatt hours. That corresponds with a intermediate storage device about the size of four shipping containers.

"Electric cars will change our habits. It's clear that, in the future, several types of charging systems -- such as slow charging at home and ultra-fast charging for long-distance travel -- will co-exist," said Capezzali.

News in briefs: Underwear-clad car owner foils theft in -17C
Oslo (AFP) Jan 20, 2016 - A car thief in Norway got more than he bargained with when the vehicle's owner, dressed only in his underwear, clung heroically to the vehicle's roof in temperatures of -17C (one degree Fahrenheit) to foil the theft.

In a scene worthy of a Hollywood movie, the 25-year-old was woken on Tuesday night by the unwelcome sound of his car's engine starting up, police reported.

Without stopping to dress, he dashed out into the snow, grabbed the car door handle and managed to clamber onto the roof, where he clung on for several kilometres (miles) as the car travelled at up to 90 kilometres per hour (56 mph).

He then smashed the back window with his knee and grappled with the thief before the car slid into a safety barrier on a bridge and came to halt.

"Bruce Willis wouldn't have managed that," commented Jan Nesland, police chief in Randesund, a town in southern Norway where the incident took place.

"It's not what we advise people to do but now he's done it, it's really an incredible story," he told the television channel TV2.

Police are questioning the thief, who was reportedly already known to the authorities for other robberies.

The car owner, whose name has been withheld, received hospital treatment for cuts and scrapes to the knees and legs -- not to mention the cold.

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