There is no doubt that cars with internal combustion engines are harmful to the environment. In the US, for example, transport accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions. Wired thinks over the question of whether autonomous electric cars will help solve this problem.
The biggest shortcoming of today’s electric cars is the too long charging, which excels especially when compared to the time needed to refuel gasoline. Electric cars also severely limit battery capacity and the associated range on a single charge.
When autonomous cars powered by electricity in addition, it is necessary to take into account that some of the energy is bitten by self-management systems. But new research suggests that trade-offs for electric autonomous vehicles are not as painful as previously thought.
Scientific view of autonomous electric cars
In an article published last month in the journal Nature Energy Carnegie Mellon University researchers analyze the behavior of self-propelled cars in cities and suburbs. They found that some elements of autonomous management contributed significantly to battery consumption, but software and hardware improvements could solve this problem.
“Many commentators thought that the first autonomous cars would have to be petrol hybrids,” says PhD student Shashank Sripad, who worked on the article. “But we believe that if we want to produce electric cars, autonomy will be compatible with them.”
Due to the small changes, electric cars could be much more suitable for automatic driving. Experts have found that constant starts, stops and the calculations needed for automatic driving reduce the range by 10 to 15 percent.
Programming vehicles for a smoother driving style would save some of this energy. Chips tailored for self-driving vehicles could also help manage energy more efficiently. Aerodynamics is another problem in suburbs, where they often drive faster – cumbersome sensors such as LIDAR reduce range by 5 to 10 percent. It will be necessary to find more elegant ways to integrate these sensors.
Ford doesn’t bet on electricity. At least for now
The carmakers themselves differ on whether they will drive their first self-driving vehicles. The difference between the various sectors recalls that autonomy is an ambitious research project potential business worth several trillion dollars and that different players see different paths. In other words, the ideal business model for autonomous vehicles is far from being resolved at the moment.
According to Ford spokesman Dan Pierce, the company wants to switch to self-driving battery-powered vehicles over time. However, if Ford wants to meet the planned start of autonomous car production in 2022, it will have to do so with gasoline-powered hybrid vehicles.
Tests conducted by Ford currently show that more than 50% of the vehicle’s battery life consumes the computing power required by the autonomous control software, air conditioning and entertainment systems needed to ensure passenger comfort. The carmaker also believes that the possible use of a fast charge would degrade the battery too quickly.
In the end, Ford calculated that charging too much time would be wasted – that time could be spent transporting passengers. “We need to find the right balance to help develop a profitable and viable business model.” says Pierce.
Elsewhere, he trusts self-driving electric cars
Competitive General Motors, whose Cruise subsidiary deals with self-driving technologies, has different ideas. At the beginning of this year, he introduced a six-seater electric vehicle similar to a toaster, which he claims will be the basis of an autonomous passenger service.
Until then, Cruise intends to rely on the fully electric Chevrolet Bolt, which he tested in San Francisco. In the past, the company planned to launch the service in 2019, but later the sharp deployment was postponed indefinitely.
Vice President Rob Grant says Cruise wants to make charging more convenient by will build additional charging infrastructure in city centers. According to him, focusing on electricity is a valuable part of the company’s offer “Our mission is in line with California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Other companies have also changed their minds about electric cars. Waymo from the Alphabet group originally launched its autonomous taxi service in Phoenix with hybrid cars Chrysler Pacifica, but now passes for fully electric cars Jaguar I-Pace. She justified the change by the availability of faster charging.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been striving for a fully autonomous electric car for a long time. He reassured himself last week that his company could achieve this goal later this year. However, most analysts in the industry are very skeptical about this timing.