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.
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.
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.
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.
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.