Explosive Creativity, Charging Stations, Driverless Cars
As I write this in January, I begin to think about the future. I’m not sure why, I can barely deal with today, but it’s probably due to the New Year. We seem obsessed with what is going to happen. I guess that’s so we can plan and make decisions based on guesses about what will be around the next corner. No one wants to be stuck with a garage full of buggy whips just as Henry Ford is firing up his assembly line.
But I think one must look at all the prognosticators with a jaundiced eye. The changes we are experiencing aren’t a straight line of progression from A to B to C. There is no roadmap that we can follow that will get us to success. Every time we turn a corner something explodes in our way and changes everything.
Richard Fernandez writing over at the Belmont Club notes the following:
“The future, far from being a stately progression of Five-Year Plans presided over by elites, has turned out to be a flood of destabilizing development, technology and discovery. Current institutions can’t control the future; they can barely cope with it. The voters realized this before the elites did. We will have our hands full just answering the question: “what did we just learn?” We live in a world whose unfoldings we often cannot prevision, prestate, or predict— a world of explosive creativity on all sides.”
“Explosive Creativity.” Now there’s a term that deserves dissecting. Technology is coming at us from every direction, but how we use it, or how it is presented is, to me, the thing to consider.
The future will be determined not by some fancy new gizmo or hand-held this or that. It will be determined by the creative minds that take that gizmo and mold it to fit the needs of a consuming public. It has almost become a time where we first imagine what we want to do, then look around at all the tech that is available and pick one from Column A and one from Column B, blend them, and voila, we have what we want.
It’s that creativity, not the behind-the-scenes tech, that will make the difference in both the near and long term.
Perhaps we need to spend a bit less time concerning ourselves with fancy new technology and more with just what we are trying to accomplish with it.
I’m considering taking two paths at the same time. One moving ever forward with the modest successes we have had, and the other taking a look at that techno world that surrounds us and seeing just what bits and bobs we can use to create something new and different.
Maybe somewhere out there those two will converge. Who knows?
I have been musing on the issue of charging stations and how parking space owners are controlling their use. Salt Lake City is reaching out to discover how other municipalities are monitoring the use of on street (and off street) charging stations. Apparently, it’s not that easy.
There are issues. The type of charger (power) denotes the amount of electricity fed into the car’s battery. The car itself makes a difference, as does temperature, and other factors. Most cars, according to a chart I found, get about 20 miles of power for each hour of charging. A Tesla with a supercharging station may get 50 miles per hour, while a Chrysler Pacifica may get less than half that with a lower powered charging station.
The question is just how much power does a city wish to provide? And how long does it wish to allow a car to be parked at the curb? I guess the other question is does a city wish to provide this service for free? If I drive a Belchfire V12, I have to go to the filling station and pay $1.50 a gallon more than anywhere else in the country (I live in California, don’t ask) to fill my tank. However, if I paid $100K for a Tesla, can I go to a curbside charging station and get my electron fix for free?
We are promoting the use of electric vehicles and giving away electricity is a way to do that, just as letting them drive in car pool lanes with only the driver is another, but I digress.
If you limit the time someone can charge, you are putting a limit on the range of the EV. Let’s say it takes four hours to ‘top up’ an EV, and you limit the amount of time one can charge curbside, to say 2 hours, then you are limiting whether a person can get home or not. These seem like policy issues that need to be addressed.
The problem with letting the private sector solve this problem is that unlike filling stations, where you go and spend five minutes filling up your car, an EV charging station can take a tad longer. Just what are you going to do while your car is charging? That hour or two can take a lot out of your day. Of course, if there is a charger in every garage or parking lot, then you can plug in and go to the office, or go shopping and come back in a couple of hours and move your car.
Let’s face it. We have to charge for the use of charging stations. It’s inappropriate to give away free electricity, after all, we all know it isn’t free. That electrical infrastructure will cost big bucks. We are only scratching the surface today. In the future, when the EV market share is what, 25 percent (it's less than 2 percent now) will we be able to afford the luxury of free or subsidized charging?
As autonomous vehicles take to the streets in test after test, the limitations of the current technology come to the fore. In about 225 locations across the country, shuttles carrying folks from metro stops to parking areas and vice versa are in full blown test mode.
They have two people in the driver’s seat, an engineer and a driver. And in most cases, limit their speed to under 25 MPH (it seems that if you hit someone at that speed, you probably won’t do a lot of damage.)
A quote from an article in the Washington Post:
Traveling under 25 mph means there is less risk of killing someone if a pedestrian is hit, and the vehicle requires less-sophisticated sensors because stopping distances are shorter, said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Navigant Research. But even for slow-speed vehicles, there are still significant technical hurdles to overcome.
Huei Peng, director of Mcity, an autonomous-vehicle-research center at the University of Michigan, said the technology is advancing, but even low-speed self-driving cars have severe limitations. He compared them to the Wright brothers’ early airplanes.
“They flew a very short distance: not very high, not very far, not very fast,” Peng said. “They were not very exciting. They were not very useful.”
Perhaps the most obvious challenge: getting the vehicles to be truly driverless. Optimus uses modified six-seat electric buggies manufactured by Polaris, but two of the seats are occupied by a safety driver and an engineer.
This is not exactly roaring praise.
Don’t get me wrong – these AVs are coming. But it isn’t easy. It’s easier, MUCH easier to write a program to fly an airplane from New York to Los Angeles than to successfully guide an AV from the Village to the Upper East Side.
If every vehicle was an AV, many of the problems would go away. However, predicting what a driver will do is hard for a machine, actually much harder for a machine than for another driver.
AV companies are proud of the fact that they have mapped cities down to the inch and know where all the curbs and turns are. But have they checked with the department of streets and highways and checked just where the lanes will be blocked, where the flagmen will be positioned, or where a construction site has moved in a huge crane for a few days?
These little problems will be solved. But not tomorrow, or even the day after.