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5 Eco-Cars Taking the Industry by Storm

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5 Eco-Cars Taking the Industry by Storm

When Henry Ford's assembly-line Model T debuted at the start of the 20th century, it completely revolutionized transportation as we knew it. But now—as we enter an era where we know burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change and renewable energy alternatives are working—transportation is clearly changing once again.

This $10,000 car is designed to run on compressed air and claims to have zero emissions. Photo Credit: AIRpod

Cars, from battery-powered to (Ford's own) solar-powered vehicle, now come in all shapes and sizes to save on fuel—and help preserve the environment. Here are five favorites:

1. Google’s Self-Driving Car

After years of anticipation, Google recently announced that it will roll out a handful self-driving car prototypes on the streets of Mountain View, California. Google touts that their cars could cut time in traffic and reduce time spent looking for parking, which uses up a lot of gasoline. And since these cars are fully electric, it means no gasoline needed and no emissions.

"When you start to think longer term about the impact on cities and the ability to reclaim space and reduce congestion and free up parking, this is something where we can have a huge impact,” said Google self-driving car project director Chris Urmson. Photo Credit: Google

2. LINDO Smart Vehicle

To help tackle Melbourne, Australia's traffic congestion problem, Kyle Armstrong developed the LINDO Smart, a tiny car that can zip through traffic like a rickshaw. The three-wheeled concept vehicle is extremely light yet durable, and can be controlled with a smartphone via its onboard computer system. In the same vein of Uber cars, LINDO users can download an app on their smartphones to order a pickup service from their current location. The ride is equipped with six lithium-ion batteries that are charged through a capacitor which is able to charge at a quarter of the time it takes for conventional battery systems. As Armstrong said in the video below, “With LINDO, Melbourne’s public transport will become faster, safer and more efficient.”

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3. Zero Pollution Motors air-powered car

Who needs gasoline or even a battery when you have air? Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM), the U.S. licensee for Luxembourg's MDI, is producing the AIRPod, described as the "first compressed air-powered car for sale in the United States." According to a news release, to power the vehicle, cold air compressed in tanks to 300 times atmospheric pressure is heated and fed into the cylinders of a piston engine, similar to popping an inflated balloon with a pin. The makers said that users can refuel the car in three minutes at compressed-air station and costs less than $3, MarketWatch reported. The $10,000, 600-pound car reportedly hits a top-speed of 50 mph and has an 80-mile range. If all this seems familiar, you might have seen AIRPod enthusiasts Ethan Tucker and Pat Boone (yes the musician) pick up a $5 million investment for the car from Robert Herjavec on ABC's Shark Tank. ZPM has attained rights to build the first of several modular plants in the U.S. to produce the AIRPod, and Hawaii is the anticipated location of the first production plant.

The idea of the AIRPod has been around for several years. Check out inventor and ex-Formula One engineer Guy Nègre show off the air-powered car in the video below.

4. The BMW i8

For something a little more stylish, BMW's futuristic i8 was recently presented with the 2015 World Green Car Award, for its plug-in hybrid drive technology, its lightweight construction as well as its avant-garde design. The car claims to go from 0 to 60 in about 4.5 seconds, achieves more than 56 mpg for everyday commuting when the battery is fully charged and has an overall fuel consumption that’s about 50 percent better than conventionally powered sports cars.

The i8 can be charged with a BMW i Wallbox Pure or Pro, which can be mounted on the house or garage wall. With the Wallbox Pro, the BMW i8 can be charged to 80 percent of its full capacity in less than two hours. Photo Credit: BMW

5. The "Affordable" Tesla

Of course, for those without a luxury budget (the i8 starts at $135,700) Tesla CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that his car company will start making a $35,000 ride. "We are hoping to show the Model 3 in March of next year," Musk told Tesla investors last month. According to The Verge, production of the Model 3, which drives 200 miles on a single charge, would start in mid or late 2017. "Late 2017 is probably more realistic," Musk added.

Tesla fans are already eagerly awaiting its debut, and some have created concept images of what the car might look like.

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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