A lot of work is being done to improve how people and goods are transported. Speed, efficiency and safety are major considerations, and today's post looks to provide a brief overview of some of the latest innovations and opportunities in transport technology. We've organised these articles into three categories:
The articles in each category provide a quick overview of some of the trends that we are seeing in the transport sector, and allow us to gain an insight into the areas in which we will likely see innovation, deployment and opportunity over the coming decade.
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One of the major barriers to more rapid development and deployment of electrically powered vehicles are batteries. Despite the advances of the past two decades, batteries are still too heavy, don't charge quickly enough, don't last long enough, don't store enough and are expensive. One of these problems may have been solved with the development of an ion pouch lithium battery by a researcher named Jeff Dahn.
Jeff Dahn and his team do most of their research for Tesla, and their findings indicate that this new type of battery will be resilient enough to power cars for over 1.6 million kilometers and last for 20 years in grid storage. This solves a major concern about battery life and the wasteful process of replacing battery packs in vehicles and other applications every few years. Battery technology appears to be evolving extremely rapidly now, and we may see all of the current challenges solved over the coming decade, transforming the transport and energy sectors.
Self-driving cars have been in development for years now, and researchers are edging closer to full driverless autonomy. A critical aspect of developing this technology is training the AI responsible for driving the vehicle safely. The AI needs to be trained in every possible scenario, interpret the information that it receives from its many sensors along with navigating and making responsible driving decisions in real time. Concerns have been raised about how safe self driving vehicles actually are, as only about 30% of crashes can be avoided due to technology's better detection and the fact that the AI is not vulnerable to human impairment such as tiredness. It's not just about detection of danger, it's about prioritising safety over speed and convenience, so therefore the AI needs to far better than the average human driver in order to reap the efficiency and safety benefits of self-driving technology.
A solution may have been found in teaching the AI to experience 'fear' in a similar way that humans do. The AI is trained using human pulse responses on simulators, and learns to recognise when humans experience a heightened response such as fear in certain driving situations. The idea of this is that the AI thinks "If a human might experience fear here, I'm doing something wrong." This approach appears to be more effective in simply training the AI to avoid objects, and looks to be an important step forward in terms of safety.
Despite the rapid advances being made, self-driving cars are not happening as quickly as we thought they were going to. Although this article is a year old, it does appear that the Ford CEO Jim Hackett's comments about overestimating the speed of deployment of self-driving cars may still be relevant. It appears that the potential and power of self-driving car technology remains huge, but that getting over the final technical and safety hurdles for full deployment will take some time and billions more investment yet.
Electric vehicles are becoming commonplace, and one benefit that Tesla owners appreciate is that the cars require almost no maintenance. Electric vehicles have far fewer moving parts than those with petrol and diesel engines, and this means that there are far fewer parts that require checking and maintenance, adding considerable savings in addition to not paying for fuel.
It had to happen. A hacker has broken into the accounts of two GPS tracker apps, allowing him to track exactly where the cars attached to the accounts are and in some cases disable the engine. The hacker shared what he has found with the companies, collected a 'reward', and prompted the companies to take their security a little more seriously.
America's love affair with the automobile may be declining. Recent data suggests that about one quarter of 16 year olds now have their drivers license, down from about half of 16 year olds in the 1980s. Similar patterns are being observed in the United Kingdom, and these changes appear to be due to increased urbanisation, micromobility, better public transport options and ride-sharing apps. It's too soon to tell how this will affect car sales long-term.
We'll look at off-road transport-related technology in another post, but for now here's a sample of what's in development that we might see in our skies and on our waterways in the coming decade or so.
The Lilium electric jet is a project that we've been following for a while, and despite some setbacks the project appears to be maintaining momentum as a serious potential player in the regional air mobility sector, with new investors joining this year. The craft uses 36 electric jet engines and is Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) and the goal is to create a regional city centre to city centre transportation network. The company is ambitious, and the combination of high speed, high capacity, affordability and low infrastructure investment tip this technology as a potential winner. Here's a test flight from December 2019, and although there are several other competitors at a similar stage of development this company is one to watch as we head towards 2025, when flights are due to start.
Here's another example of the flying taxi concept, only this time powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The initial video from 2019 looks interesting, and the project has moved on and is now conducting tethered flight. Hydrogen fuels cells promise a far greater energy density, and therefore more powerful engines, lighter weight and longer range. However the Alaka'i project appears to need a number of years before it is flying, despite the experience and skill of its founder and team.
The city of Amsterdam is looking at a potential future in which fleets of autonomous boats transport people, rubbish and also clean up waterways. The Roboat project is a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, and is looking at several solutions to transform the 165 canals through intelligent mobility and integration.
The rapid progress that we see with transport technology is opening many new avenues of research and opportunity, and the potential is huge. We will share another transport-related post in the coming weeks, and thank you for joining us this week. We welcome any and all feedback and comments, and please contact me with any questions or suggestions you have.