Driverless electric vehicles have been in the news for quite a time now but not on roads!
Reported accidents while the newly launched driverless vehicles by major car manufacturers under test show that there is no way these are ready to run on road yet. Recently a Tesla car running on autopilot crashed and killed its driver in California. A few weeks earlier, a self-driving Volvo under test by Uber killed a pedestrian in Arizona. Also, to avoid the confusion Electric vehicles of course need not be driverless and driverless vehicles need not be electric. But the two are converging.
Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari recently announced a major push for electric vehicles in India. But, he also said that he will not allow driverless vehicles in India. But, what happens when the two (driverless and electric) converge?
There are already over 3,00,000 electric vehicles on the road in California. But the issues about EV battery still persists. We haven’t been able to make the transition from lead-carbon to lithium-ion yet. But, even with the increasing adoption of lithium-ion we are not going to erase the issue of flammability. Industry claims that billions of products are powered by lithium-ion batteries such as laptops, etc., but the fact that they often blast of in flames is not yet considered. Governments and regulators, even in India, have turned a blind eye to this battery problem, so lithium-ion electric cars are blooming worldwide.
Market valuations are in the tens of billions of dollars of ride-hailing services such as Uber, Ola, etc., Bringing driverless cars is sure to kill the companies providing ride-hailing services. Now, after covering the battery and ride-hailing services, comes the biggest issue i.e., base load power.
Wind and solar industry have not taken the leap yet because of its lack of accessibility round the clock. Power supply companies have thought of delivering base-load power when wind and solar fail. But this power is generated from coal or natural gas power plants, which themselves need time to power up. One solution to this is lithium-ion battery. And only the companies providing car services have such fleets of batteries with them. Thus, at once removing the drivers is going to bring the revenues down but then these companies will become the power source in terms of batteries. Hence, the control will be in their hand again.
Google, Uber, Apple, Tesla, almost every major car company is furiously trying to perfect driverless technology. This is why Mr. Gadkari might go wrong in separating the electric vehicle with the driverless technology. While he is solely focused on electric vehicles, almost all electric vehicles may go driverless.
Mr. Gadkari believes that driverless cars will render millions of drivers jobless in India. He is right. But, one has to cope up with fast moving technology. For better or for worse, automation is the future of transportation. Automation has taken over so many aspects of our life, why not driving.
Source: Times of India