In the next 25 years, the driverless car will be to our culture what
the PC and the Internet combined were a generation ago--the surprise
enabler of the once-unimaginable. Talk to any automotive engineer at
Freescale, Infineon, Renesas, Bosch or any other leading supplier
and he'll tell you about the immediate impact on safety, traffic, from
spacing to average speeds even to highway design (highways could be
narrower because spacing can be tighter). She'll tell you about the
favorable impacts on the environment, car maintenance and insurance
rates, and on the human condition (less stress, easier commutes).
Then there will be non-obvious impacts. Vivek Wadhwa and I were chatting
about computing innovation a couple of weeks back over
coffee and he veered into another lane, the impact of driverless
cars: "It changes urban planning forever." Parking is pushed to
less-expensive, outer-ring portions of densely populated cities
because you can send your car out to park once you've stepped out and summon it back. Need to grab a
cup of coffee? Pop out of your car and have it drive around the
block until you're ready.
In fact, it probably changes the mechanics (and economics) of car
ownership forever. It makes services like Zipcara lot more convenient and accessible..
The Roomba precedent
Are there hurdles? Absolutely, but the most populous U.S. state has bought into the program and technology, while it can obviously improve, is here now and cost is falling fast. Already I'm hearing
of entrepreneurs building after-market driver-assist sensors systems
you just stick on your car and connect via WiFi to your smart phone.
People don't think twice about a robotic vacuum cleaner wandering
through their living rooms, and, in the not-too-distant future, the
sight of a moving car with a "driver" reading a book or even
sleeping won't be novel.
As a culture we have struggled mightily--shoving a square peg
into a round hole--just to change the fuel source for a car and patch together an infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the Jetsons Age just sneaked up on us.
The reason EVs, battery-powered EVs specifically, seem to be on a roller coaster ride, in terms of their popularity, is self-evident, Brian. It is because interest in them is all phoney baloney media and politician hype. Even GM had already shelved the whole Volt concept, until the government bailout forced them to resuscitate the project, for window-dressing purposes.
On the other hand, self-driving vehicles CAN happen. The problems can be worked out without having to depend on leaps of faith or the deliberate ignoring of fundamental shortcomings. And the "self driving" can be introduced gradually, where the initial products merely consist of driver warning.
Interesting Toyota stand, "there is no money in EV." My car repairman thinks EV will put him out of business. Both of these statements make me want an EV. But getting it charged in timely manner, is non-trivial. So what is wrong with an EV that has a small gas-turbine (nat gas) charging the batteries and powering the e-motors continuously? Overall, that could win.
EVs have been around for more than century. The big unresolved issue is batteries. The batteries are too big, heavy, or expensive to make any inroads in the current transportation choices of the public.
First of all, I think your mechanic friend needs to learn more about EVs. He won't be out of business at all, but he'll need to train himself on some different powertrain concepts.
The idea of having something better than a battery to provide the juice to the electric drivetrain works for me. But using a combustion engine to generate electricity won't solve anything much. My refrain on this is, use instead a hydrocarbon fuel, like all the options we have today, separate out from that fuel the H2, then feed that H2 to a fuel cell and an all-electric drivetrain.
Check this out:
This H2 extraction is done in the car. The efficency of this overall process easily, easily beats any combustion engine car. The overall efficiency of the fuel cell EV should be on the order of better than 60 percent, whereas the overall efficiency of a standard piston engine car is at or under 20 percent.
Sure there's been a technology that was just as fitful in its evolution. Just look at the early days of automobile versus horse & buggy. Early autos were the playthings of people with more money than cents. The rank-and-file stuck with the horse & buggy because they couldn't justify the cost of an auto, never mind its growing pains and idiosyncrasies. Not until Henry Ford came along and made the automobile relatively affordable and reliable would the auto industry take off. EV's are no different. Hydrocarbon fuels will have to get very expensive before EV's become attractive. Even if your electricity were free, an IC car is still a better deal for the first 150,000 miles.
Watching the snail's pace of incorporating proven designs in the auto industry just makes me shake my head. The auto industry seems to be intent on working on hair-brained schemes instead and compete to be in lock step with their competitors bizarre stylings.
Direct injection for diesel engines first appeared in Detroit diesel engines before WWII. The vast majority of industrial diesels were direct injection by 1967 because of their better efficiency and easier starting. The automotive industry didn't get around to eliminating pre-combustion chambers with their glow plug starting and black exhaust until well into the '90s.
Diesel electric locomotives have been around for over 70 years. Rumor has it that the automotive industry is finally getting around to diesel hybrids that almost double fuel mileage compared to gas electric, some day soon. Why did they even bother with gas electric hybrids?
We hear all kinds of blabber about reducing weight in cars. Consider that the Citroen DS, which hit the market in 1954 had enough room for my 6'4" frame to fit in the front seat and still cross my legs in the back while wearing a hat. With its generous limo sized interior, hydraulic suspension, front wheel drive and aerodynamic body the DS still managed to weigh in at only 2800 lbs, 58 years ago. That weight is hard to beat for even compact cars today. My 2007 Buick Lucerne with less passenger room than the old DS weighs in at over 4,000lbs, despite its generous use of aluminum and the "latest" weight saving technologies. Even its magnetic ride and handling is a far second from the DS's.
Why are they not designing cars that the average American can fit into? Why do they bring the roof down around your ears in the back seats? Why isn't there room in our cars to fit adults comfortably in all their seats any more? It's obvious the industry wants to force us to buy its trucks and SUVs.
A conspiracy of stupidity.
Hardly a conspiracy.
First of all direct injection in dielsels has nothing to do with "better fuel economy." Diesels work by first compressing the air until it gets real hot (20:1 compression or so), and then injecting the diesel, which starts burning spontaenously from the heat. Glow plugs are only used for starting. And having no glow plugs to start, like buses, can be a real problem in cold weather. For buses which leave from a garage, no big deal. For cars, a much bigger deal.
Gasoline engines use spark plugs to get the gasoline to burn. Direct injection is not essential to make that work, so you can avoid the use of the high pressure injector pump.
Mercedes Benz 300SL cars from the mid 1950s had direct injection. Mechanical, of course. Pretty much of a costly nightmarish system, for the owner.
As to weight of cars, a lot of that is caused by the safety regs.
I doubt there are any conspiracies of stupidity or otherwise here.