Event Calendar
October 2017

Compared to petrol outboards, the Yanmar is lighter, smoother, more compact, has double the engine life, and offers much better fuel consumption and running costs. It produces less toxic emissions, has more torque much lower in the rev range and  that's before you consider the safety and ready availability of diesel fuel.(Credit: Yanmar/Neander-Motor)

Diesel has traditionally always been the fuel of the maritime industry, which makes the absence of a viable widely-distributed diesel outboard engine even more puzzling. Production of the 50 hp Yanmar Dtorque 111 turbo-diesel has begun and the world's first viable diesel outboard engine is on the market at last.

Yes, there have been precedents, most notably by Yanmar itself, but they are no longer produced and certainly not like this engine. The benefits of the unconventional new German-designed Neander-Shark engine compared to traditional petrol-burning outboard engines now seem overwhelming.

The Yanmar Dtorque 111 is lighter and more compact than petrol engines of similar capacity, has double the engine life, is much smoother, offers much better fuel consumption and running costs, produces significantly less toxic emissions, and with more torque much lower in the rev range, will thrust a boat onto the plane much quicker ... and that's before you consider the safety and ready availability of diesel fuel.

Pioneering non-traditional technology in any marketplace is fraught with peril, but it is a path that Germany's Neander Motors, based in the Baltic port of Kiel, has been forced to take in several markets, thanks to its two-conrods-per-piston, small-capacity diesel engines

The benefits of the engine design are many, most significantly that the two-counter-rotating crankshafts offer perfect primary balance of the engine and a smoothness normally associated with six-cylinder petrol engines, not two-cylinder engines of any type, and particularly not diesel engines. With a lack of vibration inherent in the design, a Neander engine does not need the weighty vibration-absorbing robustness of a traditional diesel.

The announcement at the Monaco Yacht Show that Yanmar would begin global distribution of the Dtorque 111 outboard engines is a triumph for the Neander company and its long path to commercialization. The outboards will be produced by Austria's Steyr Motors.

We first became aware of Neander-Motors more than a decade ago when its highly unorthodox diesel engine was demonstrated in a motorcycle.

Sadly, the benefits of the design were lost among the eccentricities of the motorcycle marketplace where small unconventional manufacturers are plentiful. Now that the engine's primary virtues have been recognised and commercialised on a grand scale by Yanmar's global distribution, the Neander 1400cc turbocharged twin cylinder diesel might make a comeback too.

The compact Dtorque 111 will be a boon to the small workboat market where it's expected lifespan of well over 10,000 hours at least doubles that of any comparable outboard gasoline engine.

The Dtorque 111 is named for its remarkable low rpm torque, with 111 Nm on offer at 2,500 rpm. That's the type of grunt that will immediately fling a medium-sized boat onto the plane, offering a far different experience than a high revving traditional four-stroke.

As the world's smallest diesel engine with common-rail fuel injection, the Dtorque 111 delivers impressive fuel economy and exhaust emissions that fall well within the latest EU RCD 2 limits. Even at full throttle and full loading, it typically burns less than 12 liters of fuel per hour, half the amount of gasoline outboards of similar performance.

For the past 2 years both Yanmar and Neander have been trialing the pre-series production diesel outboards in six European countries, with some remarkable results.

With support from the Norrkust Marina Varvs AB in Båtskärsnä (near Luleå in Sweden), the Dtorque was tested at temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius at the Ymer icebreaker. In a port area, which had been freed from ice for the tests, the engine ran perfectly in all speed and load ranges, and started and idled so reliably at these icy temperatures that the Swedish coast guard directly expressed interest in the technology.

"We invited a wide cross-section of our customers around Europe to performance-test the outboards in differing sea states and loading conditions gathering as many opinions as possible," explained Floris Lettinga, Yanmar Global Sales Manager.

"Our research has confirmed that this product is ideally placed for the light duty commercial market, from wind turbine servicing and fish farming to harbor and patrol duties, water taxis and superyacht charter services. We are confident that the combination of long range, low running costs, durability and low emissions delivered by this unique diesel outboard will appeal to operators across a wide range of applications.

"With many commercial operators maintaining a single diesel fuel policy to avoid risk of fire and explosion, the market potential for the Dtorque 111 is highly diverse. So far, the main option for small workboat propulsion has been the gasoline outboard. No longer is that true!"

Source: Yanmar

Italian electric motorcycle manufacturer Tacita has announced its plans to expand its lineup with a new model. Scheduled for official introduction at the upcoming AIMExpo 2017, the T-Cruise deviates from the off-road variants that make up Tacita's current fleet, aiming squarely at the American market.

Based in Turin, Italy, Tacita was founded in 2009 and introduced its first electric motorcycle in 2013. Built around the company's own frame and motor, the T-Race evolved into five different production variants; Enduro, Motocross, Motard, Rally, and Diabolika. Recently, it also offered the base material for a very interesting custom model, the Aero E-Racer.

Among these, the Rally made the headlines in 2012 as the first electric motorcycle to compete in an African desert race, the Afriquia Merzouga Rally, that is part of the Dakar Series and sports Tacita among its technical sponsors.

The sixth model has just been announced, though it's designed to appeal to a very different audience; the upcoming T-Cruise is an electric cruiser that will be formally unveiled at the AIMExpo 2017 in Columbus, Ohio on September 21.

Although Tacita has in place a rather limited dealer network in the main European markets for electric motorcycles (Italy, Germany, Netherlands, England, and France), the choice of venture for the unveiling indicates that the Italians have set their sights on the American market, and the T-Cruise seems like a perfectly appropriate vehicle.

Tacita hasn't yet revealed any technical information on the new model, but chances are it will also be based on a reworked version of the steel frame it uses on all of its models, as well as the asynchronous three-phase induction motor with five-speed gearbox and two selectable engine mappings, Eco and Sport.

Tacita has only disclosed one bit of information in its Facebook page, suggesting that the T-Cruise will employ a 27 kWh Li-Po battery pack for an estimated range of 270 km (168 mi).

Apart from the only image of the T-Cruise that Tacita released today, take a look at the new electric cruiser in the following video.

Source: Tacita

[GWS] obamaphoneeric AdminGWS P.O. Very nice, i actually just purchased a Royal star and i love the bike, its like riding a couch.
[GWG] scottcolt45 Thanks, but I'll stick with my Royal Star. She turned 21 years old and now she can drink!

The US Air Force's not-so-secret spaceplane is getting a new ride next week, when the fifth X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5) lifts off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Under command of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the unmanned orbiter will be placed in an orbit with a higher inclination to the equator than previous missions to expand its operational envelope.

The September 7 launch is a first for the X-37B project. Previous missions were all launched by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster. However, SpaceX has recently moved from civilian launches to include military contracts in its portfolio, and the Falcon 9 was tapped for OTV-5.

The shuttle-like X-37B is notorious for its combination of openness and secrecy. While its launches and landings are publicized by the Air Force, exactly how long each mission will last and the primary objective of each mission is kept a secret. What is known is that the X-37B is a long-duration technology demonstrator capable of rapid deployment.

In flight, the spaceplane carries a number of experimental payloads. This flight includes small satellite deployments, the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader payload for long-term space testing of experimental electronics, and oscillating heat pipe technologies. What other experiments are onboard, the Air Force isn't saying.

The previous mission, OTV-4, set a record for endurance by a returnable space vehicle on May 7, 2017, when it landed at the Kennedy Space Center after 718 days in orbit.

"The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program," says Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. "It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community."

Source: US Air Force

When Nikola Motors started advertising outrageous specs for its Zero all-electric side-by-side, we figured there was no way those specs would survive the journey to market. A 520-hp figure may sound plenty normal for sports car, but it's pretty out there for a side-by-side. However, not only have the Zero's off-the-charts specs survived as Nikola prepares for production, some have actually grown. The spec sheet now includes well more than triple the horsepower of the current power leader, more battery power than a Tesla Model S 100D and a price tag equivalent to a Model 3.

Nikola announced the Zero's final specifications this week ahead of the opening of dealership orders in January 2018. Prior to that date, it will host a dealership ride and drive event in Southern Utah, giving dealers the opportunity to see what a 555-hp UTV can do in the dirt.

The 400-volt Zero will be available with two four-motor powertrain options, both quite extreme by UTV standards: the baseline 415 hp setup packs 368 lb-ft, and Nikola has become fond of advertising the 3,675 lb-ft torque figure that comes after the 10:1 gear reduction. If that's not enough, buyers can step up to the 555-hp/490 lb-ft option.

The big, 555-hp option is a leap up from the already large 520-hp figure Nikola had been using since first revealing its plans in 2016, and both are quite far beyond the current power levels of other performance UTVs. The UTV market still has plenty of models with double-digit power figures, and the Can-Am Maverick X3 Turbo R is claimed to be the most powerful factory-built side-by-side out there right now with its 172 hp. The Polaris RZR XP Turbo follows closely behind with 168 hp, and we had a pretty damn good time in a Yamaha YXZ1000R with a mere 90 hp on tap. Needless to say, 555 hp is a crazy leap up the power ladder.

"The advantage of the electric motor is that you only use what you need, when you need it," the company explains on its website. "You are not penalized by having electric motors with greater horsepower and torque. The motors only take the exact amount of energy they need to perform as directed and not a kilowatt more. So when you need that extra horsepower and torque to climb a hill or tow, you have it. When you don't need it, you don't use it."

The Zero's spec list has also filled out in the battery department, growing from the initial 50-kWh battery to multiple lithium-ion options topping out at 125 kWh, larger than any electric passenger car currently on the US market and right up there with the Lucid Air's planned 400-mile (644 km), 130-kWh pack. We guess battery reserves are potentially more important when you're sending 555 horses galloping into canyon-lined deserts and forested middle-of-nowheres than they are on highways, so perhaps the extra capacity is understandable. Nikola says you can expect up to 200 miles (322 km/h) of range when driving in 4x4 mode. The other battery options are a 75-kWh and 100-kWh.

One spec that hasn't changed for the better is the Zero's 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) time, which Nikola is now listing at 3.9 seconds, close to a second behind the "around three seconds" it was touting last year. Despite all the Zero's electric torque, that's also only half a second better than the aforementioned Can-Am Maverick X3 Turbo R.

Beyond just sheer battery and motor power, the Zero will have a host of other advanced features. The standard equipment package is set to include front and rear suspension with 20 in (508 mm) of travel, 14 in (356 cm) of ground clearance, 32-in tires on beadlock wheels, electric power steering and LED headlights. Options will include 4x4 torque vectoring, anti-lock brakes, traction control, anti-roll protection, and front and rear 4,500-lb (2,040-kg) winches. A standard 10-in infotainment display will put monitoring and control at the driver's fingertips, and an available audio system will add a soundtrack. A 4-kW solar charging system will also be offered as an option.

The latest renderings show design evolution from the prototype Nikola showed last year. The more styled front-end includes redesigned headlights and a new grille. The rear styling has been tightened and includes more defined taillights, and the roll cage has a few extra angles and joints to it. All in all, it's a more polished, production-ready look.

The Zero will start at $35,000 when it comes to market, and Nikola is planning to begin deliveries in 2018. We're still maintaining our skepticism about this one until it's actually available (and maybe until we've actually ridden it), but so far Nikola appears to be moving forward steadily.

As you might recall, Nikola is also hard at work on a hydrogen fuel cell semi truck called the One. Not only does that truck promise to help scrub the stench of diesel from highways, it also promises to be pretty damn cozy for those driving it, as renderings of its sleeper cabin revealed this month show. With its sleek layout of dual bunks, Wi-Fi, central control tablet, ambient lighting, TV, microwave and more, the One looks as much a cozy RV as a big rig.

You can see more of both the Zero UTV and the One sleeper compartment in the photo gallery.

Source: Nikola

[GWG] scottcolt45 I see dead people.....
[GWS] RedSpartacus This vehicle builder must have played a lot with Lego.

Earlier this month, the Russian weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov Group made a low-key announcement with frightening implications. The company revealed it had developed a range of combat robots that are fully automated and used artificial intelligence to identify targets and make independent decisions. The revelation rekindled the simmering, and controversial, debate over autonomous weaponry and asked the question, at what point do we hand control of lethal weapons over to artificial intelligence?

                                             Some of the weaponry recently revealed by the Kalashnikov Group  The autonomous capacity of the weaponry is yet to be demonstrated  Some of the weaponry recently revealed by the Kalashnikov Group  

In 2015, over one thousand robotics and artificial intelligence researchers, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, signed an open letter urging the United Nations to impose a ban on the development and deployment of weaponized AI. The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly though, and the UN didn't respond until December 2016. The UN has now formally convened a group of government experts as a step towards implementing a formal global ban, but realistically speaking this could still be several years away.

The fully-automated Kalashnikov

While the United Nations are currently forming a group to discuss the possibility of introducing a potential ban on AI-controlled weaponry, Russia is already about to demonstrate actual autonomous combat robots. A few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov Group, infamous for inventing the AK-47, known as the most effective killing machine in human history, came the following announcement:

"In the imminent future, the Group will unveil a range of products based on neural networks," said Sofiya Ivanova, the Group's Director for Communications. "A fully automated combat module featuring this technology is planned to be demonstrated at the Army-2017 forum," she added, in a short statement to the state-run news agency TASS.

The brevity of the comments make it unclear as to specifically what has been produced or how they would be deployed, but the language is clear. The company has developed a "fully automated" system that is based on "neural networks." This weaponized "combat module" can apparently identify targets and make decisions on its own. And we'll be seeing it soon.

The "Terminator conundrum"

The question of whether we should remove human oversight from any automated military operation has been hotly debated for some time. In the US there is no official consensus on the dilemma. Known informally inside the corridors of the Pentagon as "the Terminator conundrum," the question being asked is whether stifling the development of these types of weapons would actually allow other less ethically minded countries to leap ahead? Or is it a greater danger to ultimately allow machines the ability to make life or death decisions?

Currently the United States' official stance on autonomous weapons is that human approval must be in the loop on any engagement that involves lethal force. Autonomous systems can only be deployed for "non-lethal, non-kinetic force, such as some forms of electronic attack."

In a compelling essay co-authored by retired US Army Colonel Joseph Brecher, the argument against the banning of autonomous weaponry is starkly presented. A scenario is described whereby two combatants are facing off. One holds an arsenal of fully autonomous combat robots, while the other has similar weaponry with only semi-autonomous capabilities that keep a human in the loop.

In this scenario the combatant with the semi-autonomous capability is at two significant disadvantages. Speed of course is an obvious concern. An autonomous system will inherently be able to act faster and defeat a system that needs to pause for a human to approve its lethal actions.

The second disadvantage of a human-led system is its vulnerability to hacking. A semi-autonomous system, be it on the ground or in the air, requires a communications link that could ultimately be compromised. Turning a nation's combat robots on itself would be the ultimate act of future cyberwarfare, and the more independent a system is, the more closed off and secure it can be to these kinds of outside compromises.

The confronting conclusion to this line of thinking is that restraining the development of lethal, autonomous weapon systems would actually strengthen the military force of those less-scrupulous countries that pursue those technologies.

Could AI remove human error?

Putting aside the frightening mental image of autonomous robot soldiers for a moment, some researchers are arguing that a more thorough implementation of artificial intelligence into military processes could actually improve accuracy and reduce accidental civilian fatalities.

Human error or indiscriminate targeting often results in those awful news stories showing civilians bloodied by bombs that hit urban centers by mistake. What if artificially intelligent weapons systems could not only find their own way to a specific target, but accurately identify the person and hold off on weapons deployment before autonomously going in for the kill at a time it deems appropriate and safer for non-combatants?

In a report supported by the Future of Life Institute, ironically bankrolled by Elon Musk, research scientist Heather Roff examines the current state of autonomous weapon systems and considers where future developments could be headed. Roff writes that there are two current technologies sweeping through new weapons development.

"The two most recent emerging technologies are Target Image Discrimination and Loitering (i.e. self-engagement)," writes Roff. "The former has been aided by improvements in computer vision and image processing and is being incorporated on most new missile technologies. The latter is emerging in certain standoff platforms as well as some small UAVs. They represent a new frontier of autonomy, where the weapon does not have a specific target but a set of potential targets, and it waits in the engagement zone until an appropriate target is detected. This technology is on a low number of deployed systems, but is a heavy component of systems in development."

Of course, these systems would still currently require a "human in the loop" to trigger any lethal action, but at what point is the human actually holding back the efficiency of the system?

These are questions that no one currently has good answers for.

With the Russian-backed Kalashnikov Group announcing the development of a fully automated combat system, and the United Nations skirting around the issue of a global ban on autonomous weaponry, we are quickly going to need to figure those answers out.

The "Terminator conundrum" may have been an amusing thought experiment for the last few years, but the science fiction is quickly becoming science fact. Are we ready to give machines the authority to make life or death decisions?

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