NEWS

28 June 2022

‘Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away’ children’s book launches at Harwell

‘Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away’ children’s book launches at Harwell

On Tuesday 7 June, our children’s picture book ‘Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away’ had its official launch at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus!

The book was created by a mother-and-daughter team: Darwin’s Harriet Evans wrote the story, and her mum, Alison Evans, illustrated it by hand. For the launch, the Darwin team visited the on-campus Bright Horizons and Little Stars nurseries, where Harriet and Alison read to the children.

On Tuesday 7 June, our children’s picture book Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away had its official launch at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus! The book was created by a mother-and-daughter team: Darwin’s Harriet Evans wrote the story, and her mum, Alison Evans, illustrated it by hand. For the launch, the Darwin team visited the on-campus Bright Horizons and Little Stars nurseries, where Harriet and Alison read to the children. Alison demonstrated how she drew the shuttle, and apparently the children appreciated the lesson; we’re told they were still drawing Darwin after we’d left. Afterwards, each of the children got their own copy of the book to get home. They also had the opportunity to meet the actual Darwin Autonomous Shuttle the story was based on! It was a great day for all involved. Thank you to the Bright Horizons and Little Stars nurseries for hosting us, and we hope you enjoyed the book! ‘Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away’ by Harriet Evans, with illustrations by Alison Evans (Darwin Innovation), is available on Amazon for £8.99. As an Amazon Associate, Darwin earns from qualifying purchases.
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14 June 2022

How are satellites powered?

How are satellites powered?

Satellites often stay operational for years, in an environment where it would be enormously difficult and expensive to pop by and change the batteries. That raises an obvious question: where do satellites get their energy from?

Satellites often stay operational for years, in an environment where it would be enormously difficult and expensive to pop by and change the batteries. That raises an obvious question: where do satellites get their energy from? What do satellites use power for? A satellite in orbit doesn’t generally need power in order to keep orbiting, with occasional exceptions that we’ll look at later on. Satellites mainly use their power supplies to maintain their electronic systems. This enables them to carry out the tasks they were designed for: photography, for example. It also allows them to transmit to or receive transmissions from Earth. Because power isn’t necessarily essential to keep a satellite orbiting, it’s possible for a satellite to run out of power but remain in orbit. This is a problem, as it means the satellite is no longer performing a useful function, can’t be controlled from the ground and may obstruct other satellites. If you’re interested in how satellite operators dispose of satellites before they run out of power, take a look at our article ‘What happens to old satellites?’ Solar-powered satellites There’s one clear source of energy for satellites to draw on: the sun. Because satellites orbit above the clouds, they don’t experience the drop in energy production that Earth-based solar panels face during overcast days. Solar energy began to be used very early in the history of artificial satellites. The first solar-powered satellite was Vanguard 1, the fourth artificial satellite to go into orbit around Earth (and the oldest manmade object still orbiting), which was launched by the US on 17 March 1958 and has now been in space for over sixty years. Although clouds aren’t a concern for satellite solar panels, satellites don’t always have access to solar energy. At times, the Earth will be between the satellite and the sun; in other words, from the satellite’s perspective, the sun will be eclipsed. Because of this, it’s necessary to have a source of power that can be used in darkness. This power is provided by rechargeable batteries. These batteries are charged by solar energy when the sun is visible. When the sun is eclipsed by the Earth, the charged batteries can still power the satellite, and they will be able to recharge when the satellite’s orbit brings it back into sunlight. These batteries don’t last forever – eventually, they’ll wear out to the point where they can’t hold a charge – but they can keep a satellite in operation for years. Satellite fuel Solar energy can help satellites carry out their day-to-day tasks and communications. If the satellite needs to be moved, though, it requires fuel. In the normal course of orbit, a satellite doesn’t need to burn fuel; it’s kept moving by gravity and the lack of friction in space. However, satellites are generally launched with some fuel, which can be used to operate thrusters in a variety of situations. For example, fuel is useful for: Moving the satellite into the intended orbit. Reboosting a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite by increasing its altitude and speed, ensuring that it stays in orbit for longer. LEO satellites tend to experience small amounts of atmospheric drag, causing their orbit to decay over time, and will fall out of orbit without occasional reboosting. Avoiding collisions with other satellites or space debris. Satellite operators need to stay aware of potential collisions and take action if the risk becomes too high. The ESA infographic ‘The Cost of Avoiding Collisions’ explains that, on average, each of ESA’s Earth satellites needs to be moved twice per year to avoid a potential collision. Disposing of a satellite by slowing it down at the end of its life, causing it to fall into the atmosphere. Disposing of a satellite by raising it into an orbit beyond all currently active satellites: a ‘graveyard orbit’. The fuel that satellites use in the present day is generally hydrazine-based. Because hydrazine is toxic and must be handled in full-body protective gear, the space industry is conducting research into safer fuels to work with. We’ve already seen substantial changes in how satellites are powered. The first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, had no solar panels and was powered entirely by batteries, which ran out three weeks after its 1957 launch. In the future, we’re likely to see more improvements, from safer fuel to longer-lasting rechargeable batteries. Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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1 June 2022

‘Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away’, a children’s book about self-driving vehicles, is out now

‘Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away’, a children’s book about self-driving vehicles, is out now

A new children’s picture book puts a fresh spin on Thomas the Tank Engine and brings it up to date with the modern age.

‘Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away’ (published by Darwin Innovation) is inspired by a real-life autonomous shuttle bus recently launched by Darwin Innovation Group, a hi-tech company based in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

A new children’s picture book puts a fresh spin on Thomas the Tank Engine and brings it up to date with the modern age. Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away (published by Darwin Innovation) is inspired by a real-life autonomous shuttle bus recently launched by Darwin Innovation Group, a hi-tech company based in Harwell, Oxfordshire. Author Harriet Evans (33), from London, wrote the book, and her mum Alison illustrated it by hand. The author, Harriet Evans (right), and the illustrator, Alison Evans (left) ‘Self-driving cars sounded like science fiction not long ago, but now they’re reality,’ Harriet said. ‘The real-life Darwin Autonomous Shuttle drives, stops and picks up passengers by itself. It can navigate and avoid obstacles using cameras, sensors, and information from mobile networks and satellites. Children love the shuttle. They are very open-minded and enthusiastic about the idea of driverless buses.’ The book is for pre-schoolers and early schoolers and its aim is to simultaneously educate and entertain. Nursery children have been celebrating the launch of the book at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, where the real-life shuttle currently operates, and there are plans for more books about Darwin’s adventures in the future. Harriet explained that her storyline reflects some of the issues of traditional and emerging transport existing side by side, as well as more human concerns about not being good enough. ‘Darwin is a determined but insecure little self-driving vehicle. When she runs away to Oxford to become a bus, she learns that it’s not as easy as it seems – no matter how much advice you get from actual buses. Through her journey, Darwin learns that it’s okay to be different, and that she can rely on her friends for support instead of running away from problems.’ ‘I forgot for a moment that Darwin was a bus,’ an eight-year-old reader said. ‘I felt like Darwin was a human. I understood all her feelings and felt that she would understand mine.’ The real-life Darwin bus has only recently been launched, with plans to roll out more in cities around the UK and Spain over the next couple of years. Blue Peter has already featured the bus, watched by around 46,000 viewers. ‘Darwin the Shuttle Runs Away’ by Harriet Evans, with illustrations by Alison Evans (Darwin Innovation), is available on Amazon for £8.99. As an Amazon Associate, Darwin earns from qualifying purchases. Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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20 May 2022

Darwin: innovation in the use of 5G for connected mobility services

Darwin: innovation in the use of 5G for connected mobility services

Rodrigo Barreto, Darwin’s lead architect, has written this overview of Darwin’s inspiration, achievements and plans for the future.

Rodrigo Barreto, Darwin’s lead architect, has written this overview of Darwin’s inspiration, achievements and plans for the future. It was originally posted in Portuguese on Portal 5G. - Mobile and satellite communication services have historically developed in parallel. At times, the satellite communications industry has offered telephony services to end users, with the most notable examples including Thuraya, Globalstar and Iridium. These services, however, have limited data communication capacity and relatively low adoption. Otherwise, companies specialising in satellite communications have focused on facilitating the interconnection between radio base stations and telephone exchanges as the main way of integrating the two technological strands. Thus there is a gap between satellite communications providers and terrestrial mobile service providers, each focusing on the area where they have the greatest competitive advantage and rarely looking for joint solutions for user access. The mobile segment has not been able to develop full geographic coverage for data services, and the satellite segment has not been used to fill these gaps in coverage in an integrated manner. This is what inspired the Darwin Project. For a technological innovation proposal to gain momentum, the timing needs to be right. In 2019, when the concept for the Darwin Project began to take shape, the following clear trends were already visible: an explosion in the number of data connections for devices, with increasing requirements for broadband communication capacity and, in the case of vehicles, the added requirement of mobility a decrease in the price of satellite broadband services, although these were almost always provided at a fixed location the emergence of flat antennas for broadband satellite communication services, enabling mobile usage through the use of dynamic beam forming and steering a developing interest among standardisation bodies in the convergence of satellite and mobile communications, including proposals to study communication using 5G radio forms via satellite from 3GPP Release 16 The idea of combining satellite and terrestrial mobile service networks to enable seamless user access was born. This would allow satellite and terrestrial networks to complement each other, enabling vehicles to benefit from uninterrupted connectivity on the move. Data platform services were added to this concept; these would allow companies to visualise their fleet telemetry data and enjoy specialised services according to their vertical of operation. Finally, taking into account the fact that the future of mobility is tied to autonomy, the theme of connected autonomous mobility joined the mix. The idea immediately resonated with high-level managers at Telefónica, a company at which Daniela Petrovic, one of the founders of the Darwin Project, had long been acting as delivery director on large transformation projects. In addition to filling several innovation gaps in which Telefónica had an interest, such as use cases for 5G and advanced cases of machine-to-machine connectivity, the idea could benefit from a similar initiative where Telefónica, Hispasat and Renfe had worked together since 2015 to enable continuous broadband access on Spanish high-speed trains. Telefónica decided that there was merit in offering seed capital – a specific financing model for business projects in their initial phase, usually used by startups – to explore the concept. For greater flexibility, the independent startup format was chosen. This allowed the new company, Darwin Innovation Group, to compete for a grant, in a matched funding format, from the UK Space Agency (UKSA). With the seed capital sponsored by Telefónica UK and a grant approved by UKSA, the Darwin Project was kicked off. The first phase of the project, under the supervision of the European Space Agency (ESA), the operational arm administering the UKSA grant, served to consolidate the concept. At this stage, in partnership with Telefónica UK, Hispasat and the University of Glasgow, Darwin worked to: identify use cases that would benefit from uninterrupted communications and connected mobility detail the business requirements of these use cases analyse the regulatory environment for autonomous mobility services and for the communication services involved analyse and define the evolution roadmap for solution components such as terminal, antenna, core network, business support systems etc. map business models and detail the concept of service operations develop two patents to protect intellectual property Following this, or in some cases in parallel, Darwin initiated practical activities to demonstrate the concepts behind the project. These included: acquiring Renault Twizy electric vehicles, adapted by StreetDrone for fly-by-wire operation, for use as a software development platform for autonomous mobility transforming a van into a Connected Mobile Test Unit, equipped with a flat antenna for satellite communications, an antenna for terrestrial communications, and a hybrid satellite and 5G communications terminal developing the SatCom Lab, with a fully integrated environment for satellite and 5G connectivity through a private network provided by Telefónica UK, for the development and testing of terminal and network configurations developing embedded and cloud applications that enable IoT communications, the processing of collected data and the graphical presentation of the resulting information via a website This process culminated in field testing when we used the Connected Mobile Test Unit to assess connectivity levels as we travelled around Cornwall, known for its challenges in relation to both satellite and terrestrial connectivity due to irregular terrain and dense vegetation in certain areas. The demonstration was a success; while connectivity was available 90% of the time for terrestrial mobile services and 80% of the time for satellite communications services, our integrated terrestrial and satellite solution maintained a connection to cloud services for more than 99% of the time. All tested services, such as streaming live video, transferring large files, teleconferencing and browsing web pages, maintained an almost unchanged quality of experience for the user, who could not even notice the transitions taking place between terrestrial and satellite networks. Separately, Darwin had the opportunity to compete for one of ESA’s new matched funding projects in the area of ​​mobility. Darwin won the tender with the proposal to develop a passenger transport service at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, where both ESA and Darwin are located. The Darwin Autonomous Shuttle service is differentiated by its use of a self-driving shuttle with uninterrupted connectivity using 5G and satellite communications. The main sponsor this time is the insurance company Aviva, which is interested in having access to data to develop new insurance products for autonomous vehicles. A new Pandora’s box had been opened, and Darwin found itself confronted with the regulations necessary to operate an autonomous passenger service in the UK. With the help of public bodies such as the CCAV (Centre for Connected Autonomous Vehicles), we were able to identify and fulfil the main administrative requirements: vehicle import, respecting legal terms (HMRC) determining the vehicle as suitable for transit on public roads (DVSA) obtaining the vehicle registration plate (DVLA) notifying various agencies, public administration bodies and police of the details of the operation approval for service operation on the route During the pilot operation, the necessary operational processes were developed and the safety operators were trained. These operators, for legal reasons, need to be inside the vehicle to intervene in its control if necessary. After this phase and with the appropriate approvals, the service moved to a regular operation phase with open access to campus pass holders and their guests. As can be seen, three years of intense activities have passed and have already borne much fruit. But there is much more to come in our plans for the future: in 2021 we launched operations in Málaga, Spain, where we intend to establish a laboratory with a focus on data security solutions and vehicle autonomy software development in 2021 we also started collaboration on the development of software for level 4 autonomous vehicles, and we are working to demonstrate this capability with a view to transferring it to other commercial vehicles we are following the latest developments in 5G standardisation, the new launches of flat antennas for satellite communication and the capabilities of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations, and we anticipate great evolution of our connectivity solution over 2022 and 2023 we are developing a prototype integrated terminal and within the next six months we will have equipment certified for use in vehicles in various territories in order to leverage our business activity, we will develop virtual network operator capabilities across 2022 and early 2023, building the entire IT platform necessary for our relationship with customers and partners Finally, we are hungry for innovation and have an immense desire to help create a more sustainable future in the area of mobility. On this journey, we would be honoured to consider commercial proposals to work closely with other companies and institutions. Rodrigo Barreto, Darwin Lead Architect Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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10 May 2022

How to make your car battery last longer

How to make your car battery last longer

If you want to minimise your carbon footprint, an electric car will usually be a better choice than one that uses fossil fuels. You can further reduce your impact on the environment – and the cost of running your vehicle – by taking care of your car battery. In this post, we’re talking about how to prolong EV battery life.

If you want to minimise your carbon footprint, an electric car will usually be a better choice than one that uses fossil fuels; we talk about the benefits of electric vehicles in our article on self-driving cars and the environment. You can further reduce your impact on the environment – and the cost of running your vehicle – by taking care of your car battery. In this post, we’re talking about how to prolong EV battery life. What do we mean when we talk about extending electric car battery life? When we talk about extending the life of an electric car battery, we could mean either of two things: We want to extend the range of an electric car. In other words, we’d like to make sure the battery lasts as long as possible before needing to be recharged. We want to prevent the battery from losing its charging capacity to the point where it’s no longer useful. In other words, we’d like to make sure the battery lasts as long as possible before needing to be replaced. Of course, you’re probably hoping to achieve both of these things. When you’re driving an electric vehicle, it’s best to have a battery that rarely needs charging and remains useable for many years. They’re also both desirable from an environmental point of view. If a battery rarely needs recharging, that reduces your vehicle’s emissions from electricity generation. If a battery rarely needs replacing, that reduces your vehicle’s emissions from battery production. Because of this, we’re going to look at both aims in this article. Tips to extend EV battery life Only plug your car in to charge when you need to. It can be tempting to plug your vehicle in every night, but unnecessary charging puts the battery under unnecessary strain, causing its capacity to deplete faster. In other words, the more you charge your battery, the more you’ll need to charge your battery. Only use fast chargers when necessary. If you’ve stopped in the middle of a long journey, you might need to top up with a fast charger. They’re harder on your battery than regular chargers, though, so, if you’re not in a hurry, regular chargers are a better option. Try to avoid either charging fully or letting the battery run flat. It’s worth checking whether the manufacturer recommends specific percentages, but general advice is to keep your vehicle’s charge between 20 and 80%, avoiding the extremes of 0 and 100%. Some electric vehicle manufacturers let you specify a maximum charge, in which case your vehicle won’t charge past that point even if you don’t unplug it straight away. It’s fine if you occasionally need to charge to full for a long journey, but it's worth keeping this in mind for day-to-day use. Try not to leave your car exposed in hot weather. If you have access to a garage, tuck your car away in high temperatures. Even if you don’t have a garage, you can take steps to reduce the impact of temperature on your car’s battery, such as parking in the shade on hot days. Tips to maximise EV battery range If it’s cold, time your charging so you can set off as soon as it’s done. Batteries work less efficiently in the cold. If the battery’s just been charging, though, it’s going to be nicely warmed up for your journey. Bear in mind that charging can also take longer in cold weather. Make use of regenerative braking to extend your EV’s range. Regenerative braking captures some of the energy usually lost in braking and uses it to restore a small amount of charge to the car’s battery. This might seem to contradict the ‘only charge your vehicle when you need to’ advice, but Keil and Jossen’s 2015 paper ‘Aging of Lithium-Ion Batteries in Electric Vehicles: Impact of Regenerative Braking’ suggests that regenerative braking may in fact be good for your battery in the long term as well as the short term. Remember that heating or air conditioning will draw energy from the battery. Your comfort is important; don’t sit there and freeze when the temperature’s low. It’s hard to concentrate at extreme temperatures, and, when you’re driving, concentration is more important than range. If the temperature is tolerable and you’re worried about whether you’ll make it to your destination before needing to recharge, though, you can extend your range by turning the climate control off. Avoid sudden acceleration and sharp braking where possible. Smoother driving consumes less energy. Reduce the weight of the vehicle if you can. The heavier your car, the more energy it takes to move it. If you’ve got a boot full of firewood you keep forgetting to store, remove it before your next journey. A final note on preserving car batteries These are general tips that will serve you well with most electric cars. Different vehicles have different needs, though, and we don’t know exactly what you’re driving. It’s worth checking to see whether your car’s manufacturer has put out advice on their electric vehicles. For example, Tesla has a page of range tips for Tesla drivers and Volkswagen has some advice on the page ‘How far your electric car can go’. Take a look at your car manual, too; some vehicles have eco modes that limit their power or shut off extraneous features in order to conserve battery life. With an awareness of both the general needs of batteries and the specific needs of your car, we hope you’ll be able to keep using your battery for as long as possible. Safe driving! Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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