Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will certainly be a disruptive technology and they may have significant influences on today’s transportation systems. But experts wonder: will the current rapid pace of AV development and deployment continue? Will government set standards, and impose restrictions, and will any new government interaction with the technology slow its deployment? Will this impact other related technological advances?
Those related technological advances include ‘clean vehicles’, or alternatively-fueled vehicles. These electric, hydrogen and hybrid propulsion technologies have not only caught the eye of the consumer, but also continue to crush opponents’ objections through innovation and implementation.
Only a few years ago, it was feared that in-vehicle battery technology would only last five years, battery replacements would cost tens of thousands of dollars, and electric vehicles (EVs) could not meet public demands for performance, safety or range.
Wrong. The hybrid Prius was the first to disprove the battery lifespan and replacement cost theory. Performance? The Motor Trend annual World’s Greatest Drag Race left the other concerns in the dust: it was amazing to even see an all-electric four-door sedan entered in a race against some of the top muscle cars in the world! Low centers of gravity, thanks to all those batteries located under the vehicle floor, also help some aspects of vehicle handling and safety. The effectiveness of impact crush zones are enhanced without a large internal combustion engine in the way. At the same time, ranges have increased for daily commuters to over 300 miles (482km) between charges.
As the public invests more in clean vehicles, the demand for vehicle charging stations will increase. Several private companies and many municipalities have installed both paid and free chargers for EVs. Tesla alone has installed thousands of superchargers that enable full charging of a battery, from empty, in around 45 minutes. This opens longer-range trips for drivers willing to take an occasional break while their vehicle charges – if they are Tesla drivers. Current chargers aren’t universally compatible, though: a Nissan Leaf cannot charge at a Tesla supercharger.
Are EVs part of the transportation technology revolution? Will there be a common charging platform? Can the current electric grid support the installation of multi-bay EV charging stations?
Do we care, or do we as infrastructure managers just need to make sure the market – and highway real estate – is open to multiple standards and entrants? Almost all vehicle manufacturers will be delivering EVs by 2020, fueled either from plug-in sources or by hydrogen generators. How will this mix of vehicles be incorporated into our existing infrastructure? Will EVs be discounted in high-occupancy tolling (HOT) lanes? Will the public demand chargers along our highways? There are many adjustments that will need to be made for both AVs and EVs.
Five years ago, few people saw EVs as even a small part of our mobility infrastructure. Yes there are operational and technical problems to work out, but public demand is only going to expand
this market. For readers that doubt the readiness of this technology, I recommend that you take a test drive. These vehicles are here to stay.