Buses have a boring image but they are actually a hotbed of innovation.
You can buy on Alibaba a bus that powers itself and has no battery. It is made by Nanowinn Technologies of China and it only works in daylight using its state-of-the-art copper indium gallium diselenide solar panels and super-efficient traction motor.
Think of it as a lizard electric vehicle waking in the sun. It only carries eight people and manages walking speed but, hey, here is the future. It is always laughable the first time round
Our ten-year forecast for electric buses notes many other interesting vehicles. For example, under the cooking sun in Uganda there are already large pure electric buses that get a high proportion of their energy from solar panels on the roof.
A bus that straddles the traffic is being tested in China. The next version will carry one thousand people and have so much solar area that it might harvest 20kW from daylight. Time to stop laughing.
In 2050, 80% of people will live in cities. Cars will be banned. Indeed, we shall reach peak car volumes around 2030 as one autonomous taxi or bus replaces a large number of private cars. City managers increasingly will discourage cars by repurposing car parks and imposing congestion charges.
The autonomous bus is interesting. The hardware will be rapidly commoditized but enable a large software and systems business. For example, hybrid taxi-buses may run regular routes, but when needed morph into taxis under voice command so even the young and the disabled can go anywhere they need.
The very structure of the bus is changing with electrics, mechanics and electronics previously made as components-in-a-box being replaced by structural electronics. The roof is the solar panel, the dashboard contains the instruments – all are smart materials.
Proterra in the U.S. is using ultra lightweight composite bodywork to increase range. BYD of China saves space by having two near-wheel motors. Indeed, buses may use a configuration of six in-wheel motors being tested by startup Nicola Motors in the U.S, for giant trucks.
Contactless fast charging is coming on, and intermittent overhead catenary charging is being tested with long distance trucks in three countries. Such techniques could power pure electric buses so they don’t need to face the safety, cost and lifecycle problems of using large batteries.
Triboelectric or dielectric elastomer harvesting promises to give kilowatts from bus tires. Tests of energy harvesting suspension systems indicated they will deliver 10 kW which can be used to charge the battery to some extent or used to give superb active suspension. Someday travelling in a bus in pot-holed London or Calcutta will seem less like standing in a dinghy in a storm at sea.
-- Peter Harrop is chairman of IDTechEx and host of its IDTechEx! Show on Nov. 16-17 in Santa Clara, Calif.