Cambridge, Mass., MIT gained notice in
the ’90s for its leadership in computer
science. But these days the kids at MIT
are hot for clean auto technology—a
burgeoning field that may be the only
future for America’s car industry.
One group of MIT students has developed a three-wheeled race car powered
by solar cells. Dubbed Eleanor, the car
looks like a curvy billiards table covered
in shiny black solar cells. It’s very sci-fi,
capable of traveling at 90 miles per hour.
“It’s fun to drive and quite a spectacle,” freshman physics major George
Hansel told wired.com, where I recently
served as editor.
Another set of MIT students is already
pretty close to getting another clean-tech
innovation into today’s automobiles: a
high-tech shock absorber that turns potholes into power.
Led by materials engineering senior
Shakeel Avadhany, the students have
created GenShock, a regenerative shock
absorber that generates power as it rumbles over bumps and holes. GenShock has
already attracted AM General, the maker
of the military Humvee, which lent the
team a test vehicle.
The shock absorber forces hydraulic
fluid through a turbine attached to a generator, which can recharge the battery or
venerable turbocharger to the regenerative braking systems already widely used
in hybrids and electric cars.
REVENGE OF THE NERD
Across the way from MIT’s leafy old
campus is a brand-new research center—
Microsoft’s New England Research &
Development Center. Situated just off
Cambridge’s Kendall Square, Microsoft’s
lab is known, appropriately enough, by
its perfect acronym: NERD. Opened in
July 2008, NERD is Microsoft’s sixth
Eleanor is very streamlined; she
has a drag coefficient of 0.11, making her
super slippery through the air. Streamlining will be one of the key technologies
in making electric vehicles rival gas-powered cars. As much as 50 percent of
a car’s energy is spent just pushing the
air in front of it out of the way. Efficient
aerodynamic designs will be one of the
best ways to extend the range of electric
vehicles’ battery packs.
Eleanor’s inventors hope that its
batteries, powertrain, and power-management systems—may end up
in the hybrids and electric vehicles of
From New York’s thriving Silicon Alley
to Microsoft’s brand-new social media lab
outside of Boston, the Eastern Seaboard
and the technology leaders based here are
key players in the future of technology.
run onboard electrics. In heavy vehicles,
the system may be efficient enough to
replace the alternator, improving fuel
efficiency by as much as 10 percent.
It’s the latest of several regenerative
technologies that recapture energy that
might otherwise be wasted, from the
research lab, joining centers across
the globe, from Great Britain to India,
which together employ more than 1,000
NERD is run by the husband-and-wife team of Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, both Microsoft Research