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The HumanCar LMV Imagineâ„¢

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Fossil fuels are expensive, non-renewable in the short term, and are the root of some major geopolitical tensions. Biofuels are causing problems with the production of food for our planet. And the places we need to go are still too far to walk. Could a human-powered vehicle be the answer?

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HumanCar is the world's first human-electric hybrid automobile. It works like a cross between a handcar and a rowing machine, and it's been compared to a Flintstones car, but inventor and company CEO Chuck Greenwood insists the design was inspired by drag racing cars. The production model is street legal. The rowing motion recharges the battery, which in turn can be used to power the car (and you can also plug it in). In addition to normal auto gauges, the company offers optional biometrics to monitor your physical extertion. And yes, you can get a cup holder. As well as internet acccess in your HumanCar. Scroll down to the bottom of the preorder page for an options list. After decades of tinkering, prototypes, and testing, the HumanCar LMV Imagineâ„¢ model is set to launch on April 22nd (EarthDay) in 2008.

This video of a prototype chassis in use shows you how it goes.

Fascinating, but it raises a lot of questions. I mainly use a car to haul people and things. Neither my kids nor my elderly relatives can be counted on to pull their weight (so to speak). Greenwood was happy to address my questions in an interview by email.

How do you steer it?
Body-Steeringâ„¢ is like a ski or a board. The two front pilots steer the vehicle with angulation. It rocks. It's fun. BodySteer utilizes more degrees of freedom than leaning - like riding a motorcycle. High speed handling is critical to the safe performance of any vehicle. Why make a 200 MPH chassis/suspension system? Why not? BodySteer is at least as effective as wheel steering - some would say much more effective.

If two people are steering, does one have override control?
Either can control the vehicle, but there is an exotic sensory input when you feel the others sharing the activity. Dominant/Submissive arrangements work, and so does real-time cooperation.

Could the HumanCar carry people who don't contribute to the power (meaning children)?
Yes and cargo as well (1000 lbs.)

How many people are required for it to work properly?
111Humancar_FM4 One to Four. Three people works quite well. Of course, with one or two people you are probably going to want auxiliary power.

When does the battery assist come in?
100% Variable - So you can rock it just a little or full blast anytime.

How does the driver control the speed?
Advanced braking systems.

Have you ever parallel-parked this car?
Yes, with Cool Fuel Roadtrips as seen on YouTube and Google Video.

Is there any place to carry cargo (groceries)?
The Imagineâ„¢ LMV will have a rather large (est 6 bags of groceries) sized cargo area.

111Rod and FM4 NaturalWho is going to manufacture these?
HumanCar(R) Inc., we may also license options to manufacture globally.

Since the latest artwork is a drawing, can we assume that what will be
manufactured will look different from any of the prototypes?

Best question ever, it's a hot rod in essence and in parallel the whole project is in constant evolution. Notice the chassis on the FM4 Troublemaker and notice the integration of design from the 189mph Research Rod. Now the recent ideations that are being distributed are renderings from the actual CAD files. It's delicate to release exactly what the car will look like but we can share this: The new body style is sexy and essentially WYSIWYG.

Will there be a cover for the weather?
Yes. A T-Top pop top deal.

Can it be used in the rain?
Yes and snow.

Will there be two models available?
We make three- download the info. kit from our site and check it. We are focusing 100% on the Imagineâ„¢ LMV electric human hybrid right now. They are exotic at first - think of a Carrera GT for Low Mass Vehicles. Soon we will be able to make them from recycled plastics and the cost will come down to a near free price point with co-marketing and branding scenarios.

Greenwood also said:
111Humancar_FM4_CSG_PE We are part mad scientists, part hot rodders, part musicians and patrons, like my dad says, "Everybody says they are ready to rock, now let's see it!" We are just trying to carry some weight and show the world that a small group of independent thinkers can make it happen at the big picture level.

This concept causes us to stop and think about why we drive a car in the first place. If you are driving yourself to work and want to save gas and stay fit, then by all means, ride a bicycle. The advantage of the HumanCar is that it allows you to do those things as a group, or carry cargo and passengers. If you drive to save yourself a walk, then you would want to go with an all-power car, electric or hybrid.

The LMV Imagineâ„¢ will run you $15,000. It's the hot rod model. The first production run as a limited edition of 100 vehicles. If more demand is created, a larger production run should bring the price down. Whether it will take off depends on several things. Greenwood noted that when the first prototype was built, gas was 32 cents a gallon. Would you drive a car like this if gas were $5 a gallon instead of $3? When you figure the cost of the car vs. money saved on gasoline, throw in the money you save by not buying a fitness club membership. That brings up another point: will the product be viewed as an exercise machine more than a vehicle? It might prove to be more popular in countries where gas is precious and physical exertion is already the norm. And in the end, it comes down to usability. It if really can haul kids and groceries, travel in the rain and snow, climb hills, and keep up with traffic, it might be the wave of the future. We'll look forward to hearing how those who have preordered HumanCars feel about them after a few months of driving. And we'll look forward to checking out their biceps and triceps!

Find out more at HumanCar.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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