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A Battery-Capacitor Hybrid--for Hybrids

Engineers give lead-acid batteries a makeover by crossing them with ultracapacitors

3 min read

Lead-acid ­batteries are relics that haven’t changed much since their invention nearly 150 years ago. Heavy and unable to withstand rapid charge-discharge cycles, they are unsuitable for the automotive world’s killer app, hybrid-electric vehicles. Hybrids instead use expensive nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries or, experimentally, lithium batteries. But a new, souped-up version of lead-acid batteries could change that, cutting the cost of hybrids and also improving the function of power grids and a range of other applications.

The new design ­combines lead-acid chemistry with ultracapacitors, energy-­storage devices that can quickly absorb and release a lot of charge, which they store along the ­roughened surface of their electrodes. Unlike ordinary lead-acid ­batteries, which are slowed by the movement of ­chemicals within them, these could ­provide quick bursts of power for acceleration and then recharge during braking, a must for hybrid-electric and electric vehicles. A hybrid’s rapid recharging cycles and high currents would destroy the lead electrodes in standard batteries, because lead sulfate would build up on them. The new batteries can go through at least four times as many charging cycles as lead-acid batteries, and, ­crucially, would cost about a quarter of NiMH batteries.

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Chinese Joint Venture Will Begin Mass-Producing an Autonomous Electric Car

With the Robo-01, Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely aim for a fully self-driving car

4 min read
A black car sits against a white backdrop decorated with Chinese writing. The car’s doors are open, like a butterfly’s wings. Two charging stations are on the car’s left; two men stand on the right.

The Robo-01 autonomous electric car shows off its butterfly doors at a reveal to the media in Beijing, in June 2022.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters/Alamy

In October, a startup called Jidu Automotive, backed by Chinese AI giant Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely, officially released an autonomous electric car, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition. In 2023, the car will go on sale.

At roughly US $55,000, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition is a limited edition, cobranded with China’s Lunar Exploration Project. It has two lidars, a 5-millimeter-wave radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and 12 high-definition cameras. It is the first vehicle to offer on-board, AI-assisted voice recognition, with voice response speeds within 700 milliseconds, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8295 chip.

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