What happens when you take an electric car into a town full of petrolheads and coalminers, and film them planting their steel-capped boots on the accelerator?
“Fuck me … it’s like a rocket ship,” says one miner, who usually spends his time driving V8s or manoeuvring a giant coal scoop.
YouTube and Twitter channel Coal Miners Driving Teslas is the project of 39-year-old mechanical engineer-turned climate change activist Daniel Bleakley.
Other reactions – heavily spiced with unbridled swearing – range from “it’s like taking off in an aeroplane”, to three cowboy-style “yee haws” from the veteran independent Australian federal MP Bob Katter.
Bleakley owns a performance version of the Tesla Model 3 that can go from zero to 100km/h in about 3.3 seconds (0-60mph in 3.1s).
For non-car enthusiasts, Bleakley’s Model 3 will leave most production Porsches and BMWs in its wake. The Model 3 is considered Tesla’s entry-level vehicle, costing between $65,000 and $90,000 new.
The location for most of Bleakley’s videos is the coal town of Clermont in regional Queensland, where he grew up and where his parents and brother live. The people he lets drive his car mostly work in the mines and drive powerful petrol cars and utility pick-up trucks.
But Bleakley wants to convert them, and sees the power in showcasing their unexpected amazement at the technology.
It is safe to say, Clermont is not the sort of place you would find enthusiastic backing for electric cars, which in Australia have been politicised as a cause célèbre of environmentalists.
“People up here love cars,” he says. “My mate is a massive petrolhead and he has rebuilt V8s. All his family love cars. When they sit in the Tesla they are completely blown away.”
Bleakley has worked in the oil industry in Scotland and in mining in Western Australia, but now lives in Melbourne where he ran a printing business. But he has always been worried about the climate crisis.
“I thought it was a future problem. But in the last few years I’ve realised it’s here and now, and we have to act.”
Two years ago he decided to focus full-time on climate change and environmental activism. In 2019, he glued his hand to the window of a Siemens office in Melbourne over the technology company’s contract to provide technology to a rail line for the controversial Adani coalmine. The mine is close to his hometown.
But seeing his friends go crazy in an electric car “has been a real eye opener”.
“Traditional activism is about saying stop, or saying no,” he says. “But this is saying: ‘here’s an incredible space ship from the future and you can drive it’. It’s a future we can all have if we choose it.”
Last week Bleakley took a 375km drive from Clermont to Charters Towers on a single charge to meet the inimitable Katter – a silver-haired independent MP whose Kennedy electorate covers more more than 500,000 sq km – an area slightly bigger than Spain. (Bleakley arrived with only 13km left in the battery and had to sleep overnight with his motel room door open to run an extension cable to charge the car.)
“Yee haw,” screamed Katter three times as the car’s instant torque pinned the 76-year-old to his seat. “That’s so exciting – it’s so thrilling.”
Is Katter converted? Not entirely.
He tells the Guardian he thought the car was “a bit small” and while the acceleration was “fantastic” he insisted the big drawback was that it takes “two and a half hours” to charge (charging times actually depend on the battery, the car, and the charging station but modern chargers can add 175km of range or more in about 10 minutes).
That said, Katter wants to see an Australia-based electric vehicle and battery industry, and is working with other independents on a fuel security bill that will include his ideas – alongside securing oil supplies and increasing renewable liquid fuels.
What became Bleakley’s first video was actually taken by his brother, who had borrowed the car and filmed a workmate driving it.
But his favourite is a video of a childhood friend and “Clermont’s biggest car nut” who says on camera it is “like a rocket ship”.
“I’ve known him since I was a kid. He owns these incredible high-performance V8s. To see him drive the Tesla and love the car for me was really special. That was when I realised I was really onto something,” Bleakley says.
Australia is lagging well behind other developed countries for electric vehicle take-up.
The EV industry in Australia – which constituted just 0.6% of new car sales in 2019 – blames a total lack of federal government support.
In 2019 the prime minister, Scott Morrison, claimed the opposition’s pro-electric vehicles policy would “end the weekend” for Australians who loved to tow a trailer or a boat, or go camping.
Last week, Ford in the US launched a full-electric version of its market-leading F150 truck (it can tow 10,000lb or 4.5 tonnes, according to Ford).
The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.
Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.
Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.
This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.
“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.
“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”
Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.
She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.
“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.
The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®
Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.
Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.
The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.
The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.
The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.
“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.
“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”
Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.
IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.
“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”
Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”