Light Friday: Cool Concept Cars and Wacky Pet Inventions…

…Record-Setting Patent Year, Robust Rovers and More.

Cool Concept Cars from Detroit Auto Show
With all the woes of the global automotive industry, a number of automakers skipped out on this year’s North American International Auto Show. For those who did make it, “green” was the color to be.

Autoblog compiled a list of the top 10 green cars at the show, picking the following for its top three:

Chrysler 200c
Coming in at No. 3, this mid-sized sedan is powered by an extended range electric vehicle powertrain. Chrysler claims it has a 40-mile plug-in range.

Fisker Karma Sunset Concept Car
Getting the No. 2 slot for design, there are doubts about how well the Karma’s ER-EV powertrain will work. That and whether the company can be financially viable both leave some wondering if it can go from concept to production. Jalopik gives it an 85 percent likelihood of production.

Ford Focus EV “mule”
Although it did not appear at the show as a complete car, the Ford EV earned the top spot on the list because “will actually be available for outright sale to real retail customers in Ford dealerships.” Ford announced it would build the battery-powered car beginning in 2011.

In the meantime, Ford stated that all its vehicles will get auto-stop capability — a system that shuts down the engine to prevent idling. In the U.S., only hybrids have that capability. The system will be implemented on manual cars first (only 5 percent of the U.S. market) and then on automatic transmission cars because an electro-hydraulic pump must be added to the system that will automatically shift the transmission back to first gear before starting. Though a multi-year project, Autoblog predicts the first set of auto-stop systems go commercial as early as next year.

All images via Autoblog

Rovers Turn 5
To the surprise of most, twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity this month celebrate their fifth year exploring the Red Planet. Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004, and twin Opportunity touched down 21 days later. Scientists thought they would work for only 90 days.

“Together, the rovers have driven more than 20km, and returned more than 36 gigabytes of data. This has included a quarter of a million images,” BBC News reports. “Spirit is exploring a 150km-wide bowl-shaped depression known as Gusev Crater where it has found an abundance of rocks and soil showing extensive exposure to water. Opportunity is on the other side of the planet, in a flat region known as Meridiani Planum.”

The rovers are just now showing serious signs of wear and tear. To celebrate their missions, Rover team members conducted a lecture series that was held yesterday and today. Yesterday’s lecture will be available for viewing here.

See Earth from Space
See the Earth from a different angle through NASA’s Earth Observatory, which brings together imagery from various satellites and astronaut missions. The Boston Globe has gathered 23 standout images from the site over the past several years.

Today’s image from Earth Observatory shows dust plumes that blew off the coast of Saudi Arabia and over the Red Sea.

NASA image courtesy of MODIS Rapid Response, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

IBM Wins More Than 4,000 U.S. Patents
International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) set the record for garnering the most U.S. patents in a single year, earning 4,186 in 2008. That’s more than triple the number earned by competitor Hewitt-Packard.

Among the patents won by IBM scientists: a wireless system that detects a child’s presence in a car seat; a radio frequency identification method for blind people to find their way around; and a cheaper way to build nanotechnology for making chips.

Bird Nappies, Dog Treadmills and Remote Feeders
Simplifying the lives of bird and dog owners everywhere, here are a few wacky inventions that make cleaning up after your bird, and walking, watching and feeding your dog a breeze.

Avian Fashions has invented the FlightSuits™ Bird Diapers for bird owners who want to have their feathered friend fly around the house but not have to clean up after it. The diapers are made out of a soft stretchy fabric that is reusable and can be custom-fit for birds, from tiny budgies to giant macaws.

Too cold to go outside but Fido wants a run? Hammacher Schlemmer is selling a dog treadmill that “allows owners to exercise their pets despite inclement weather conditions, time and space constraints, or hectic schedules.” Makers say the treadmill has a top speed of 5 mph.

Prefer to build a pet gadget rather than buy one? Stephen Myers, a Ph.D student in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Florida, has devised a way to check up on his dog and feed it treats via the Internet, an Apple I-Phone, a servo smart board and other random parts. For instructions on making your own feeder, visit his Cygnet Engineering blog. Below is a video of the finished project.

Stuck on the Runway on Purpose
Most travellers despise killing time on the runway, but not those “flying” in the Jumbo Hostel, a Boeing 747 that was converted into a hostel. The grounded plane took off this week, with more than 200 people already booking a stay on the jumbo jet-turned-hostel.

The former Singapore Airlines and Pan Am jet is now a 25-room hostel that sleeps 74 people, reports news:lite. It is parked at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. Prices range from $220 and go all the way up to $590 per night for the bridal suite.



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