The Coming of Intelligent Green Vehicles [Futurist, The]
(Futurist, The Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) A Report from the TechCast Project By Laura B. Huhn, Kenneth W. Harris, and Dexter Snyder
While many people simply want to get from A to B, transportation options (and especially automobiles) have to meet a variety of consumer demands: They must be clean, affordable, safe, and increasingly intelligent. Here is an overview of the choices and challenges for carmakers and consumers over the next 10 to 15 years.
Imagine being able to sit back during your morning commute while your car does the driving. Would you move closer to the country Take up the oboe Finally read War and Peace
And just imagine the freedom it would bring to those who are disabled. Take, for instance, the legally blind man who earlier in 2012 took a spin in Google's selfdriving car to go to Taco Bell and then pick up his dry cleaning. Following Nevada's recent legalization of driverless cars on the road, Florida has passed a bill allowing tests of selfdriving cars. And legislation has also been introduced to make selfdriving cars street legal in California.
Selfdriving cars may take some getting used to, but we are only at the dawn of a new age in automotive automation.
Ever since the 1939 World's Fair, the idea of autonomous vehicles has captured the public's imagination. Today, intelligent, green vehicles are driving the future of transportation. The looming energy and environmental MegaCrisis has carmakers scrambling to raise fuel economy and develop commercially viable vehicles that limit pollutants.
Enabling technologies such as ad vanced IT systems, artificial intelligence, and speech recognition are giving rise to smart cars that drive themselves and to highway "road trains" or platoons. However, some skepticism remains for the latter, as the rapid installation of intelligent systems in vehicles currently outpaces the level of R&D for platoons.
Drawing on TechCast's work, this article explains how hybrids, electrics, fuel-cell cars, and intelligent vehicles are likely to enter mainstream use. (See the table "Summary of TechCast Results on Intelligent and Green Vehicles.")
Hybrids: The All-Purpose Car
An industrializing world population, a warming planet, and depleting supplies of fossil fuels are causing rising prices at the pump. Consumers are increasingly looking to save on fuel costs.
Under the leadership of Japanese carmakers, the first mass-produced alternative to the internal combustion engine has been so successful that it seems likely to revolutionize car design. A few different types of hybrids exist, all powered by some combination of electric motor, a small gasoline engine operating at high speeds for efficiency, and a battery at lower speeds, providing fuel economy gains and pollution reduction. And hybrids keep improving. Toyota's third-generation Prius is comparable to a gas-powered Camry in size, price, and performance, and it has a high-tech style that buyers love.
Some manufacturers are also experimenting with solar power. Fisker Automotive has added rooftop solar panels to its Fisker Karma to augment the battery. With enough sunny days, the manufacturer says, the solar glass roof can harness enough energy to extend driving range up to an additional 200 miles annually.
Equipped with high-capacity batteries, hybrids can recharge at night with energy from the grid, costing the equivalent of $1 per gallon. In addition to reducing costs, hybrids could provide storage for intermittent energy like wind; the hybrid car fleet could serve as a source of backup power to the grid.
Although the consumer could get more miles per gallon from their hybrid, the expense of buying one currently means slower adoption. Hybrids still generally cost more than comparable cars in the United States, and they're a hard sell in China, where a 2012 Toyota Camry HEV starts at about $50,000.
Hybrids, though, remain formidable competitors to all-electrics. If present indications hold and cost improvements continue, TechCast estimates 30% adoption of hybrids by 2016 (plus or minus three years), which would easily translate into a global market in the trillions.
Plugging In to Electrics
The Obama administration set a goal of having 1 million electric cars hy( including hybrids) on the road by 2015. And China, driven by the need to conserve energy and avoid pollution, plans to have 5 million vehicles powered only by electric motors (allelectrics) on the road by 2020.
All-electric vehicles (EVs) have existed almost as long as gas-engine vehicles, offering advantages of "refueling" with relatively cheap electricity, quieter ride, and simpler mechanisms. They emit no pollutants, require no fossil fuels, and the electricity to power them can be generated from clean sources such as wind and solar in years to come. They can be recharged from 110 or 220 volt outlets at nominal cost and do not require oil changes, tune-ups or emissions inspections. The shiftto electric-powered cars is expected to cause sales of gasoline and diesel powered cars to begin to decline about 2020.
EVs remain limited by range on a single battery charge and time required for recharge. However, significant advances in batteries and capacitors and the emergence of home and public charging and exchange stations are making EVs more practical. Some plug-in hybrids, like the GM Volt, are designed for all-electric drive with on-board charging. Improvements in technology will show up directly as models with increased range for all-battery or all-ultracapacitor mode appear in the market. Auto manufacturers are offering broader selections, and prices are nearly competitive with gas-powered vehicles (after government subsidies).
Ford, GM, Chrysler, and top German carmakers have adopted a new standard connecting system enabling EVs to be fast-charged in as little as 15 minutes. The DC Fast Charging with a Combined Charging System, or "combo connector," is slated for use throughout Europe beginning in 2017. The European Commission seeks to implement a single plug system for recharging and infrastructure. Several Japanese firms, as well, are developing charging standards. Pike Research projects 13,000 U.S. charging stations by the end of 2012, compared with 160,000 gas stations. However, to make electrics comparable to gas-powered and hybrid vehicles, outdoor electrical outlets will be needed at homes, as well as public stations that charge batteries and swap them.
Battery packs cost from $12,000 to $15,000, so EVs are not yet competitive without government subsidy. And while the Mitsubishi i-MiEV retails for around $31,000 in the United States before the $7,500 tax credit, or a net $23,500, a fairly well-equipped Mitsubishi gas-powered vehicle retails for under $20,000. Additional costs for EVs come from the chargers and installation. Moreover, U.S. federal tax credits for the purchase of home and commercial chargers have, for now, expired.
Will costs decrease to the point of affordability It depends. Scarcity of raw materials like lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt used in batteries may prevent costs from declining and may even increase costs.
All-electrics also face tough competition from improved gas-powered vehicles, hybrids, and fuel-cell cars. A 2010 ZPryme Research survey of 1,046 U.S. residents revealed that a majority were either "only somewhat likely" or "very unlikely" to buy an electric car within the next five years. TechCast estimates that electrics will lag in adoption behind hybrids, entering mainstream in the 2020s.
Fuel-Cell Cars: The Final Solution
Governments and the auto industry are pouring billions of dollars into hydrogen vehicle research and development. Gas engines in conventional cars are less than 20% efficient, while hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles use 40%-60% of the fuel's energy. Automotive fuel cells are still in the research stage, as no version has durability anywhere near the 5,000 hours required for vehicle use.
Fuel-cell vehicles are considered long-range alternatives to electric cars, and they are also similar to hybrids. They use electric motors to drive wheels, batteries to store energy, regenerative braking to conserve it, and may in time use lighter composite bodies.
The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded millions of dollars to innovative hydrogen storage technology projects across the United States to advance adoption of fuelcell vehicles. The U.S. National Research Council states that lowercost fuel-cell cars are likely to be available by 2015, and 2 million hydrogen-powered cars could be operating across the nation in 2020 and 25 million by 2030.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles that used to cost a shocking $1 million to build just a few years ago have dropped to $100,000. Now, more than 100 companies are developing fuel-cell cars, with significant gains in driving range, power density, cost, durability, and weight. Several major automakers, including Toyota, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz, plan to launch limited sales of hydrogenpowered cars in 2015.
But gasoline refineries, gas stations, distribution systems, and the entire infrastructure of auto fuel will have to change. There are a few experimental hydrogen fuel stations in Southern California, where Honda plans to lease about 200 FCX Clarity FCEV vehicles over the next few years.
Methods for extracting hydrogen, too, are still not yet clearly defined nor commercially feasible. Also, some scientists warn that hydrogen from fuel cells could leak into the atmosphere and disrupt the ozone layer. TechCast estimates that fuel-cell cars will enter the commercial market by 2015, eventually creating global demand that may reach several trillion dollars.
U.S. consumers and manufacturers are reviving interest in modern diesel cars, which can achieve substantially greater fuel economy than gasoline-powered vehicles, meet strict environmental standards, are competitively priced, and have also taken 50% of Europe's auto market.
Gasoline and diesel engines are becoming more efficient with fuel injection, variable valve timing, and cylinder cutout under part load. EcoMotors company is building a gas engine that's 50% more fuel-efficient at lower cost. Nissan has developed the supercharged, gasoline-powered, three-cylinder Micra, which gets a combined 68.9 miles per gallon. And the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco gets 39 mpg on the highway, compared with 48 mpg for the 2012 Toyota Prius and 44 mpg for the 2012 Honda Insight. Gas and diesel vehicles are being made out of stronger, lighter materials, and they can be powered with liquid biofuels, which wouldn't require significant fueling infrastructure changes.
An innovative engine developed at the University of Michigan uses a wave disk generator that causes "shock waves" to ignite compressed fuel and air, using no pistons, rods, crankshaft, valves, spark plugs, or cooling systems. It's expected to run at 60% efficiency, compared with the typical gas-powered vehicle that runs about 15%. It should also take about 1,000 pounds offof the average car's total weight, improving fuel efficiency and decreasing emissions 90%.
India's Tata Motors aims to produce and sell zero-pollution cars that run on compressed air. And Volvo, Ford, Land Rover, and Jaguar are experimenting with flywheel-powered cars, which store kinetic energy in a spinning wheel to power hybrid electric vehicles, which could reduce fuel consumption by 20% at a third of the price of a standard battery.
Vehicles as Information Technologies
Rapid advances in information technology and the urgent need to improve highway safety, relieve congestion, and raise fuel economy are spurring development of intelligent systems throughout the automotive fleet much the same way that nextgeneration airport systems replace tower control with satellite, plane-toplane, and plane-to-infrastructure control.
Intelligent vehicles guide drivers through traffic, navigate to a destination, automate driving, guard against accidents, and perform other intelligent functions in concert with other vehicles or the highway infrastructure. Intelligent cars also reduce wasted fuel, lost work hours, accidents, and other drawbacks of congested roads. The U.S. Department of Transportation projects that the 2.9 trillion U.S. highway vehicle miles traveled in 2005 will increase by 60% to 4.7 trillion in 2030. Computer models indicate that automation would double or even triple highway capacity.
Successful DARPA-funded tests and other experiments are providing a foundation for commercial introduction of fully autonomous cars. A European Research Council project led four driverless vans on a 13,000-kilometer (8,077-mile) journey from Italy to China with only minimal human intervention. Google's self-driving cars traveled more than 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers) as of late 2011. Volvo is testing a "road train" system in which cars electronically follow a lead car. And Japan has introduced an Intelligent Transport System that enables unmanned pickup and return of cars.
Challenges to smart-vehicle adoption remain, along with doubts about whether they can travel on highways at close intervals without a governing infrastructure. Problems include controlling entry onto onramps and off-ramps, ensuring that vehicles have compatible intelligent systems, setting speed limits, managing accidents, controlling intersections, and optimizing other system functions. In addition, the mix between cars with many gradations of intelligence and those with little or none could cause an important road safety issue for years to come.
Automakers are now steadily integrating and evaluating safety features, such as intelligent brakes and lane following, that will be part of the eventual autonomous vehicle. This trend allows time for truly autonomous systems to evolve naturally and to match the particular needs of different world markets.
The U.S. Department of Transportation launched a one-year pilot study in 2012 with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor. Nearly 3,000 test vehicles will be equipped with wireless vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology, which can send signals to another vehicle within a 1,000-mile radius as a dashboard warning to alert drivers of impending danger.
Governments will need to change laws and regulations to make selfdriving vehicles "street legal." Liability for accidents remains an issue, not to mention security. As vehicles become increasingly able to transmit data over the Internet, car manufacturers may face the same kinds of privacy concerns that credit card companies do. Intelligent-vehicle systems also make cars vulnerable to terrorist and criminal hacking.
As these challenges are met, TechCast estimates that intelligent vehicles could enter the mainstream about 2015 or shortly thereafter.
The Global MegaCrisis: An Opportunity in Disguise
Recent years have marked some of the hottest temperatures on record, and if greenhouse gases keep rising, a 10°F rise is possible in the next few decades. Greenhouse gases must be reduced by 60% from 1980 levels in order to avoid severe climate change. Not only is this daunting, but it is also costly, leading global leaders, power-producing plants, and auto manufacturers to seek ways to cut carbon-dioxide levels in emissions in order to adapt.
This constitutes a Global MegaCrisis: Multiple threats of worldwide industrialization, energy shortages, climate change, environmental collapse, and other unknown global disruptions could reach critical levels about 2020 (see "The Global MegaCrisis: Four Scenarios, Two Perspectives" by William E. Halal and Michael Marien, THE FUTURIST, May-June 2011).
Technology is creating an electronically unified world that is largely industrialized but faces unprecedented challenges in energy, climate change, the environment, and more. World GDP should double by 2020 and almost quadruple by 2030, producing commensurate increases in the above threats.
Crisis Yes. But automobile manufacturers, seeing an opportunity in disguise, have started a gold rush in the development of clean-energy vehicles. As green practices move into the mainstream over the next five or more years, the decade of the 2010s should prove critical to address global warming, which would also help in the transition to alternative energy by about 2020.
Sustainable practices promise to become one of the most crucial sectors of the economy, while a new form of global order is needed to avert disaster-one that includes pollution control. In Earth in the Balance, Al Gore noted that pollution control was a $500 billion market in 2000 and is expected to reach $10 trillion in 2020-larger than auto, health care, and defense. A rising interest in saving the planet is cutting across global leadership, big business, and consumers who are seeking ways to save at the pump while reducing their future ecological footprint.
The Road Ahead
So what might the next few decades bring What will a typical driver experience as advanced vehicles alter life into the future Here's a quick two-stage scenario describing the life of Sue Smith, an average car owner making her way through the year 2020 and then 2025.
Hi, I'm Sue Smith, systems analyst at a big telecom firm in Denver. Married with two kids; my husband's name is Brad. We own a Prius and love it, although I really pine for a good all-electric instead of hassling with gas, now at $10.50 a gallon and climbing. With Congress's new carbon taxes due to kick in soon, electric is the way to go, especially now that solar and other alternatives are picking up the slack from oil.
They say that gas could reach $20 a gallon by 2025 if climate change gets worse. But we can only afford one car, so we need the range of a hybrid.
Most of our neighbors own hybrids now for the same reason, although I must admit that Detroit has improved their traditional cars (internal combustion engines) to the point where there isn't a great difference in fuel costs. I know Brad loves the thrill of hearing a big V8 roaring down the highway with mufflers blazing. Too bad for Brad, because I'm against using more oil.
I'm tempted by the new hydrogen fuelcell car that GM just brought out to follow up on the old Volt. With a 300-mile range, and with the hydrogen coming from solar systems that split water, the new "Cell" is really green. Nice to have options.
2025-Smart Electrics and Everything Else
Brad and I decided to trade in the Prius for the new version of the old GM Volt-"Volt II." Ultracapacitors hold enough power for a 200-mile trip, and carbon-reinforced bodies only weigh half as much.
I love the new Exxon charging stations that have sprung up everywhere, especially with no more gas smells and waiting for the tank to fill. Hit the recharge switch, and zap-the car is ready for another 200 miles.
My friend's Volt short-circuited out about half of his ultracapacitor, so it could hold less than 100 miles of power. We had to hopscotch across the country on our trip to the coast, stopping every 50-60 miles to recharge. But with the roof-top solar panels we are buying, that car can charge itself while sitting in the driveway most days.
I'm still sweating the self-driving features of smart cars today. Good to be released from the hard work of long drives, and the system does reduce congestion by handling traffic flow well. The big surprise was seeing how self-driving solved the problem with texting, cell-phone use, and other distractions. Now that the car drives itself, it's easy to use the time for other things.
But I hate the way the highway system groups us into caravans roaring along three feet apart at the speed limit. And I don't like the tone of the Virtual Highway Assistant, who sometimes seems to sass me.
What really scares me is the thought of giving up control of the car, even though I know it's really intelligent and safer than relying on other people. I was terrified to see TV shots of that accident in the mountains when the "smart" highway drove a convoy of 46 cars offa cliff, killing 126 people-almost like an airline crash. The courts will be struggling for years figuring out who is liable in this mess.
No, thanks. I'll just continue using manual mode. It's slower and risky in other ways, but I like being in control.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt (standing behind car), CEO Larry Page (in driver's seat), and co-founder Sergey Brin pose with the company's experimental self-driving car in 2011. As cars become smarter, they promise to reduce accidents, traffic, and wasted fuel.
Google Car awaits a driverless test drive in Las Vegas, May 2012.
What the driverless car "sees."
Hands-free cruise down the famed Strip in Las Vegas. Self-navigating cars like Google's are poised to make a difference in the lives of transportation planners, carmakers, and commuters alike.
Concept electric vehicle gets a public inspection at the New Energy Auto Expo in Hangzhou, China, in August 2012. The Chinese government is pushing manufacturers to produce 2 million energy-saving vehicles a year by 2020, in an effort to lower fuel consumption and reduce pollution.
TechCast LLC is one of the world's leading futures research firms that derives longitudinal forecasts from the ongoing input of a large cadre of consulting experts. This "collective intelligence" online Delphi approach is what enables the project to produce authoritative forecasts that are qualified by percentage probabilities. They include market penetration estimates that make the forecasts uniquely valuable to leaders in business, government, and other institutions.
TechCast grew from former Apollo mission aerospace engineer William E. Halal's work in tracking emerging technology trends as a professor of management at George Washington University. The aim of TechCast is to provide unbiased forecasts about technological developments of great potential significance to humanity. The data is presented to audiences in the form of simple tables and user-friendly bubble charts, ensuring accessibility to all.
The forecasts themselves may be "attitude neutral"-commanding neither an optimistic nor a pessimistic view of the future-but Halal remains hopeful about the future. He has cited the Technology Revolution that TechCast tracks as evidence that humanity is developing toward a new Age of Global Awareness, thanks to Technologies of Consciousness enhancing our awareness, emotions, values, beliefs, and states of mind. Among the articles published in THE FUTURIST that have drawn from TechCast's work are:
"Major Transformations to 2100: Highlights from the TechCast Project" by Laura B. Huhn and William E. Halal, September-October 2012, pp. 34-36.
"Global MegaCrisis: Four Scenarios, Two Perspectives" by William E. Halal and Michael Marien, May-June 2011, pp. 26-33.
"Emerging Technologies and the Global Crisis of Maturity" by William E. Halal, March-April 2009, pp. 39-46.
"Technology's Promise: Highlights from the TechCast Project" by William E. Halal, November-December 2006, pp. 41-50.
For more information, visit TechCast, www.techcast.org; William E. Halal, www.billhalal.com.
About the Authors
Laura B. Huhn provides relevant insights on emerging technologies and social trends to help guide business strategy and marketing communications planning. She has served as TechCast's field editor for Energy and Environment and currently reports on emerging tech issues and challenges.
Kenneth W. Harris is chairman of the Consilience Group LLC and is editor of Transportation and Managing Editor of TechCast. He also serves as a board member and secretary of the World Future Society.
Dexter Snyder is a business consultant with Fulcrum Edge and TechCast E-Commerce Editor, with expertise in advanced automotive, communications, and energy technologies.
(c) 2013 World Future Society
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