Largely due to the leadership, presence, and success of Tesla, electric vehicles have achieved a much more prominent position in the automotive industry than they have ever enjoyed. They have also been featured in far more media than they were just ten years ago. This year, quite a few non-Tesla electric vehicles are coming on the scene as well.
There are also some intriguing possibilities for electric vehicles outside of personal transportation, such as electric tractors for the agricultural industry. Electric tractors present some tantalizing opportunities — mostly by not utilizing fossil fuels and loud diesel engines that generate a great deal of noxious air pollution.
Electric tractors are in the first phase of commercial development: one might say the most exciting stage because of all the technological and environmental possibilities. Bakur Kvezereli, Ztractor‘s founder, agreed to answer some questions about their new models for CleanTechnica.
Who is the target audience for an all-electric autonomous tractor?
Globally, our primary users are farmers who are growing vegetables, pulses, berries, and grapes. In the US we suspect to find our early-adopters in California, Oregon, Washington, and Missouri, due largely to their commitment to sustainable farming and agriculture workforce crisis. Additionally, we have very loyal prospect buyers in Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany who are waiting for their own Ztractor for several months.
Local and regional government organizations, especially air quality and agriculture boards, are also good targets for us because members see the value in automating and decarbonizing agriculture to benefit their communities. Additionally, we are looking at European dealers as a target for downstream sales.
Worldwide, we are working with third parties who are investing in emission reduction in agriculture including Central Coast Community Energy, who provides grants to customers and are dedicated to electrifying their tractors, and Mitacs, a Canadian organization dedicated to solving business problems with innovation.
Are there multiple models and what are the prices or price range?
Ztractor has three unique models in the manufacturing pipeline to service a variety of farms.
The Bearcub 24 tractor is the smallest and most compact of Ztractor’s offerings, and the model is geared toward smaller organic farms. It can work with at least 130 crops, the most popular being vegetables, berries, and grapes. The Bearcub works with 75 implements like the disc harrow, vegetable seeder, mulch layer, and precision sprayer, to name a few. Additionally, the tractor comes equipped with an adjustable chassis system and a 3-point hitch, travels up to 10 mph, and has a PTO that supports all category-1 implements. This model excels in working in vineyards and orchards, because of the ability it has to spray the grapes unmanned, limiting unnecessary chemical exposure.
The Mars 45 tractor is a great fit for all size farms, and can be used nationwide on at least 250 crops, such as beans, root vegetables, and potatoes. It is more heavy-duty than the Bearcub model and can work with 150 various tractor implements like a rotary tiller, moldboard plow, and chisel.
The SuperPilot 125 is our largest and most heavy-duty tractor and is made specifically for large acre farms. The tractor works with 50 implements, including a cultivator, disc bedder, and 12-row planter, to name a few. The tractor has the ability to work 80 crops, including wheat, corn, soy, and rice.
The BearCub model will sell averaging at $42,000 (price subject to change) including data processing, computer vision features, any other software products or narrow niches for different tasks. However, Ztractor is currently conducting ongoing research to determine the most competitive market price for the farming communities and there is not a set cost in place yet for any of the models.
Would an owner/operator run an electric autonomous tractor remotely on a laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone?
Farmers can use either a tablet or computer to set field boundaries and operate the all-electric tractor without physically driving, but operators must stay within five miles or less of the site. Farmers can set field boundaries, directions, and implement instructions by utilizing Ztractor’s maps network, and all tractors have Level 2 autonomy capabilities. The advanced safety features with 67 sensors, six cameras, and GPS, the 100% electric Bearcub-24 model collects real-time ag data while operating in the field. Its IoT framework and machine learning algorithm interprets the data, which leads to higher efficiency and increased yield.
How long can one of the company’s electric tractors operate on a full charge and how long does it take to recharge?
Early model Ztractors charged in about four hours. However, we are in the process of upgrading our battery to shorten charging time by half. Because the batteries differ in size in each tractor model, the operation period differs as well. Our smallest tractor, the Bearcub, typically uses a 24 kWh battery and typically can offer about 8 hours of usage on one charge. Our medium-sized model, the Mars, can typically farm for 10 hours, depending on the soil type and implement. Lastly, the SuperPilot offers 12 hours on one charge. We expect to adjust battery sizes as technology improves and prices come down.
Does each tractor have onboard sensors and software to make sure it does not run into or over anything?
Yes, each tractor has optics and sensors to prevent collisions. With 67 sensors, six cameras, and GPS, at an average operation speed of 3 mph it is extremely safe to operate Ztractors in off-road farm areas.
Do any of the electric tractors have AI so they learn as they work in the fields?
The tractors are equipped with seven core features that make up a machine learning functionality that allows the tractor to learn from the data it retrieves. Unlike other autonomous technologies, the tractor learns from normal operations instead of specifically driving tractors for data collection before or after filed operations. We program it to learn the space and prevent itself from running into anything, making it smarter. There is also a human filter to this learning as well. Farmers set up zones and choose the trajectories in which they want their tractor to work using satellites and aerial photos of fields.
All models collect real-time agricultural data feeds into our application software. This application uses an IoT framework and a machine-learning algorithm to help farmers gain better insight into their crops and save time and money.
Eventually, could they be fully automated so they could operate without constant human supervision and guidance?
Ztractors run at level 2 autonomy or partial driving automation. Because of this, the operator must be present within five miles of the tractor. Though we cannot make any promises on this aspect of technology today, we are optimistic that as we deploy more tractors and build upon the machine learning and data collection components, the level of autonomy will increase.
What is the use life of an electric tractor and its batteries?
We can confidently say the Ztractors could last 15+ years with the right care and maintenance.This is especially true if owners replace the batteries after their 8-year lifespan.
Are repair costs lower for an electric tractor because their technology is simpler than a gas or diesel-powered tractor?
Not only are maintenance and repair costs lower but farmers also save considerably on insurance, fuel, and labor costs.
Are any of the company’s tractors available for purchase now or are any being used in agriculture at the moment?
Ztractors will be distributed worldwide this year and will be available in both the US and Europe. The company is also working to generate buzz in farming communities in the US. The recent billboard campaign near the University of Missouri has generated extensive consumer and farmers community interest.
Ztractor is also doing extensive field research and testing in local farms in California, where the company is headquartered. Some testing sites include orchard nurseries and vegetable farms. Ztractors have performed well in these pilot programs.
New Tesla Model S Plaid Owner Shares Yoke Driving Experience: “Embrace the yoke for what it is”
Omar Sultan, who took delivery of his new Tesla Model S Plaid a few days ago, has been sharing some of his experiences. In his latest video, he talks about his continued yoke adventures and how they are helping him to break old habits while building new muscle memory. For those who may not realize, the yoke is a new Tesla steering wheel design that was first seen during the Cybertruck reveal.
Second video: my continued yoke adventures. Less than 72 hrs and things are looking better–breaking old habits, building new muscle memory. Still a work in progress, tho 🤣 #PlaidLifehttps://t.co/jJzbE6Zg93
— Omar #BLM Sultan (@omarsultan) June 13, 2021
In his video, you can clearly see the details of Tesla’s new steering wheel design — with the logo right in the center. To me, the yoke wheel looks very similar to the Tesla logo — in shape, at least.
“Overall, I feel it’s getting easier and I have to think about it less,” Omar said in his video. He was referring to the switch from driving with a regular, round steering wheel to the new yoke design. He noted that one of the tricks is to stop trying round wheel steering techniques and to “embrace the yoke for what it is.”
As he drives up to a traffic circle, he effortlessly steers the yoke and navigates the circle. With a flick of his thumb, he turns on the turn signal. This was something many were wondering about. How could you use the turn signal without the stalk? Omar demonstrated this perfectly in the video.
In a parking lot, he performs a U-turn and then goes around in a circle and then heads home. He said it was still a work in process. Perhaps it’s the turn signal buttons being located on the wheel instead of on a stalk, or the simple design of the yoke itself, but I feel like I would actually have a better time learning to drive with the yoke than with a circular wheel.
Overall, Omar’s video shows how easy it is to use the yoke steering to drive a car. “I know yokes are not going to be for everyone, but I definitely think: give it a try,” Omar said just before his video ended.
Another thing I noticed in the video was how quiet the vehicle was. While in the test ride at the event, I honestly wasn’t paying attention to the sound. I was kind of caught up in the excitement.
AutoShift & The Clear UI
In his first video, Omar talked mostly about his new vehicle’s AutoShift feature and the clear UI.
A couple of quick videos–first is AutoShift–as I said, the clear UI won me over. I should add, if you don’t want to use AutoShift (i.e. you need to pull you car up a bit) you can manually shift without needing to belt in–the shifter is on screen https://t.co/MNslOSv4Pi
— Omar #BLM Sultan (@omarsultan) June 13, 2021
To enable AutoShift, you need to have your seatbelt fastened, he noted. “Once you do that, you see it asks you to tap the brake pedal, the car comes on and it tells you what it’s going to do. It’s very clear — it’s going to back up.”
He panned the camera to the display and pointed out that the screen shifter was up. If the car was to choose to shift into an area that isn’t wise (like, into a building), you can easily take over and have it shift forward.
Another tweeter, @maddass1218, wanted to know what would happen when Omar was finished reversing or let off the pedal. Omar explained that if you let off the pedal, the car stops moving and the hold function kicks in. As to the answer to the first part of the question, Omar swiped on the screen shifter once he was done backing out and just headed on his drive.
If you let off the pedal, it stops moving and the hold function kicks in. In my case, once I am done backing out, I swipe on the screen shifter and head on my way. The screen shifter (and “park” button) are visible when the car is not moving.
— Omar #BLM Sultan (@omarsultan) June 13, 2021
Omar also has a gallery of photos of his new 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid. The tweet by me below includes a video of the display as well — it’s short and loud so enjoy.
Video of the display inside the Model S Plaid. Eli want the only one who couldn’t get out of the car 😀🤣 pic.twitter.com/KfnyAbYQwJ
— Johnna Crider (@JohnnaCrider1) June 11, 2021
ERCOT Is Having Problems With Electricity In Texas Again, And Summer Has Only Begun
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) isn’t so reliable these days, and it recently announced that it has some tight grid conditions due to many forced generation outages. During the winter storm that froze most of the Deep South, Texas Governor Greg Abbott claimed that frozen wind turbines were the cause of ERCOT’s mass outages — when, in fact, it was frozen natural gas pipes.
To solve this newest problem, ERCOT wants Texans to reduce their electric use as much as possible through June 18. The statement touched upon forced generation outages mixed with potential record electric. High electricity use in the month of June is the reason for these tight grid conditions, which is especially brought on by hot temperatures.
Texas gets hot — very hot. So, telling Texans to reduce their electricity is pointless. They are going to use their air conditioning, and if they lose power, lives could be lost. This is a deadly heat that those not from the Deep South can’t imagine. Drinking water and staying cool is the only way to beat this kind of heat.
The press release says that it’s only through Friday, June 18, but let’s look at the five-day forecast just to show you how impossible this task ERCOT gave its customers is. In Houston, the highest temperature was 100 degrees today. It will bounce in the mid-90s until Friday when a storm rolls in. It’s also been similar to those temps here. These numbers are before you factor in the humidity — which makes these temps feel hotter than what they are.
Here in Baton Rouge, the high was 93 and the heat index was expected to hit 105 degrees. Personally, I prefer this type of heat to the bone-chilling cold we had back in February. However, we need electricity to stay cool — or warm for the cold temps.
Unless Texans aren’t going to be using the electricity — perhaps going on a week-long vacation — I don’t see them reducing their usage. Not while it’s so hot. ERCOT stated that those who own generators have reported around 11,000 MW of generation being forced outage for repairs. Of that number, around 8,000 MW is thermal and the rest is intermittent resources. The summer Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy noted that a normal range of thermal generation outages on hot summer days is around 3,600 MW. This should tell you how hot it is.
“We will be conducting a thorough analysis with generation owners to determine why so many units are out of service,” said ERCOT Vice President of Grid Planning and Operations Woody Rickerson. “This is unusual for this early in the summer season.”
One key step that ERCOT wants homeowners to take is to set the thermostat to 78 degrees or higher and noted that every degree of cooling increases the energy usage by 6–8%. However, many homes, such as mine, may not have central air and heat. Window units are common (I have two of them). I’m using myself as an example here to show another reason why some Texans may not be able to set the thermostat. Depending on the type of window unit one may have, the options may just be turning it on or off. Or any adjustment to the temperature could cause the home to be warmer. I have mine set on 69 (the coolest it can go).
The other two steps are ones I’ve been doing. Turning off your lights and avoiding using the oven and other large appliances that generate heat. One way to stay cool that they didn’t mention was to eat cooling foods. Fruits such as watermelon chilled in the fridge is definitely a treat.
Tesla’s Presence in Texas Could Help ERCOT Serve Its Customers
Tesla having a presence in the state’s capital city of Austin could be the start of a path to cleaner energy that would provide relief to the grid. A clear example of this is the recent coal plant explosion in Australia. A coal-fired plant in Queensland exploded, which resulted in mass power outages affecting over 470,000 customers. However, the Hornsdale Power Reserve, which is a Tesla Powerpack system in South Australia, stepped in and saved the day in seconds.
It was reported that the response was instantaneous and that it took two seconds for a Tesla Powerpack to respond to a national crisis. Tesla’s presence in Austin should inspire the state’s leaders to consider integrating a Tesla Powerpack with ERCOT’s energy mix. It would definitely nudge the state away from fossil fuels.
A Deeper Look at the Health Costs of Climate Hazards
Originally published on NRDC Expert Blog.
NRDC and partners released a report last month on the staggering financial toll of fossil fuel air pollution and climate change on human health in the United States. Following up on the launch, we are providing here some more information to clarify our findings and take a deeper dive into our report methods.
Specifically, some headlines and stories generated from the report’s initial release suggested or directly stated that climate change is tied to more than $820 billion in health care costs per year. prompted us to provide the following information, in which we highlight four points with a more detailed description of the cost estimates and clarification on the nature of the costs we report (these clarifications are also included in an updated version of the report itself).
A new report reveals enormous cost to public health from fossil fuel air pollution and climate change. Learn what health professionals and policymakers can do to fix this urgent problem now. ➡️ https://t.co/uIA0iFmpU1 #ClimateChangesHealth
— NRDC 🌎🏡 (@NRDC) May 29, 2021
1. Differentiating between the economics of reducing mortality risk vs. health care costs to treat illness
Overall, the vast majority of the health costs identified in our report come from a method that provides a valuation of reducing premature mortality risk, known as the “Value of a Statistical Life (VSL).” These mortality-related cost estimates are not the same as those related to traditional health care that are typically incurred to treat illnesses. The VSL estimates comprise the vast majority of the total damages identified in our report and provide an important way to represent premature loss of life in economic terms.
When we discuss the costs of premature mortality measured by this VSL, our cited publications applied an estimation method for the economic valuation of premature death, rather than an out-of-pocket cost or medical bill for health services. For example, one could say that the VSL indicates how much a large group of people would be willing to pay to avoid or reduce the risk of premature death from health harms caused by environmental conditions. There is more information online about how EPA explains the VSL method here. To emphasize this distinction again: the overwhelming majority of the costs estimated in our report are those associated with premature mortality, via the VSL method.
2. Who is paying for the health care costs we identified?
For the illness-related costs, the expected payer can sometimes be determined from the datasets used to assemble the cost estimates. The report does not intend to imply that all of the estimated costs are borne by vulnerable people, nor by the general public through Medicare and Medicaid premiums, to which taxpayers contribute. The VSL estimates associated with premature deaths are not out-of-pocket expenses being directly paid by individuals, and those costs comprise the vast majority of the total economic burden identified in the report.
3. The difference between fossil fuel-generated air pollution and climate change-related costs
This report includes both the health costs of fossil fuel-related air pollution, and the health costs related to events sensitive to climate change, to varying degrees. Today, fossil fuel-related air pollution generates the majority of these costs, largely derived from the economic value of air pollution-related premature deaths. For example, the $820 billion per year figure highlighted in our report refers exclusively to the economic impact of premature deaths associated with fossil fuel-generated air pollution. Other cost estimates identified in our report (above and beyond the $820 billion) encompass both premature mortality and illness-related costs for specific types of climate-related events. We did not sum together the other cost estimates presented in each exposure category, because they are derived from different studies over different years that employed distinct methodologies.
But in the future, say, 30 years from now and assuming that cleaner, non-polluting energy sources are more prevalent, fossil fuel-related health harms would decline. However, climate change-related health costs are projected to rise to tens to hundreds of billions annually by the end of this century, greater than those same costs today. The good news is, if we move away from reliance on fossil fuels now, we can limit both types of costs – both today’s fossil fuel air pollution costs; and the future costs from a range of climate change-sensitive health hazards exacerbated by the impact of fossil fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions on climate change.
4. The difference between climate change-related and climate change-caused health impacts
The report might seem to suggest that people are directly paying out over $800 billion dollars from their pockets every year, for health costs caused by climate change. This interpretation, however, blurs the distinction between climate-attributable (caused) health outcomes and what the report identifies as “climate change-related” (elsewhere referred to as “climate-sensitive”) health outcomes. To help avert confusion, we’re providing this clarification.
The report combined findings from prior studies that were not causal climate change “attribution” analyses. Here we get into some further important details and distinctions. Climate attribution studies apply statistical modeling techniques in order to quantitatively examine the link between climate change’s influence on a particular event and associated health harms. Rather, this report compiled information from prior studies on a range of climate-sensitive health problems — those expected to worsen in frequency, intensity, duration, or areal extent in the future, due to climate change. For example, in the report, substantial costs are associated with vector-borne diseases whose climate change attribution is unknown, and likely limited at this time. To be clear, climate change is not currently responsible for 100% of the costs that were tallied in the report. While research in attributing climate change’s contribution to specific environmental events is advancing rapidly, that attribution is not the focus of the studies compiled in this report.
From Evidence to Action
Overall, our report findings indicate that fossil fuel-generated air pollution triggers a significant health and financial burden across the country right now, including a massive toll of premature death, and the available evidence indicates that the health costs of climate hazards will continue to mount in the future, unless we take decisive action to reduce climate pollution and improve community preparedness. As our understanding of the health harms of fossil fuels and climate change deepens even further, we can and should do a better job of identifying, tracking, and reducing health risks and costs from these interlinked dangers that are burdening our most vulnerable neighbors.
“Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ that is worsening existing health and economic burdens, particularly for the most vulnerable among us, including children, low-income communities, and people of color” https://t.co/xqDyypiJsE
— Amy Coopes (@coopesdetat) May 24, 2021
G7 & SEC: Mandatory Climate Risk Disclosure Needed Now
G7 leaders met in the UK last week, and climate was high on the agenda, as it must be. One of the areas of agreement among the leaders of the world’s largest economies might seem new but has been in the works for years: mandatory climate disclosures from companies.
The US has broad disclosure laws, which allow the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as a regulator of stock exchanges and stock sales, to require companies to provide the public with information that can help us make decisions, like about a company’s finances, operations, how it compensates executives, and how it is run. Climate change is an issue on which the SEC needs to require more disclosure — and the Chair of the SEC has indicated he and the Commission intend to require companies to disclose how climate change affects the risks and opportunities they face. The SEC is expected to issue a rule later this year. We think it is about time: NRDC has been pushing for more disclosure on environmental issues since 1971. And, it matters to investors with a recent CFA Institute survey finding 40 percent of investment professionals already incorporating climate risk to inform their investment decisions.
As part of our advocacy for mandatory climate disclosure, NRDC submitted comments to the SEC’s recent request for information. Only mandatory disclosures will allow the SEC to meet its mandate: “to protect investors; maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets; and facilitate capital formation.” If investors do not know the climate risks — and opportunities — that the companies they are invested in may face, it’s hard to see how investors can be protected and markets can function efficiently.
As we explained in our comments, new rules need to require each company to disclose:
- the full scope of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This includes GHG emissions from assets that it owns, like factories, buildings, or transportation fleets; GHG emissions from the power is uses to run its factories and buildings; and GHG emissions from using the products it makes (in the case of manufacturers) or the investments it makes (in the case of banks or investment companies).
- the company’s projections about how realistic climate change scenarios will affect the company. Climate change is likely to result in more widespread flooding, wildfires, and more powerful hurricanes. Those events can damage property, disrupt supply chains, and hurt employees. But climate change may also lead to a shift to more sustainable products, alternative energy sources, and new business opportunities. Investors need to know how companies are planning for these possibilities.
- how the company’s operations affect communities vulnerable to climate change.
These disclosures would give investors information that’s useful for their decisions, allowing investors to identify companies (and industries) taking the risks of climate change seriously and planning accordingly. Investors would be better able to allocate capital efficiently to companies that are responsibly planning for the physical risks climate change is already creating — like wildfires and sea-level rise — as well as the transitions risks — changes in policy, consumer preferences, prices, and the like — that our collective response to climate change is likely to impose. And as we know, the costs of climate change will be — and are already — borne disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color. Disclosures could provide information and insights into how different stakeholders may be impacted by climate change, including vulnerable communities. Additionally, shifting financial incentives away from climate-harming investments is one step towards alleviating those burdens on vulnerable communities.
A voluntary system, which has been in effect for about 15 years, was a good start. But voluntary disclosure has not generated important information nor made it easy to compare between companies. Requiring that companies disclose the risks their businesses face from, and contribute to, climate change will produce information comparable across companies and industries, allowing investors and the public to make better-informed decisions.
In their communique summarizing the G7 meeting, the G7 leaders highlighted their agreement on the importance of climate disclosures:
“We emphasise the need to green the global financial system so that financial decisions take climate considerations into account. We support moving towards mandatory climate-related financial disclosures that provide consistent and decision-useful information for market participants and that are based on the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework, in line with domestic regulatory frameworks.”
Ensuring that investors know the climate risks of the companies they own or may consider purchasing is an obvious first step to greening the global financial system. We are glad the G7 leaders agree and are working to make it happen in the world’s largest economies.
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