Thursday, August 13, 2009 | Posted by: Brian Maguire
Categories: Environment, Technology | Tags: innovation, technology, renewable energy, energy, engineering, science, car, car industry, eco, fuel, airport, General Motors, hydrogen, heathrow
“Wanted: silent taxi driver - no jip, no ranting, no dodgy fare charges; must run on hydrogen.” Coming to a terminal near you, this sci-fi reality of urban transport is no false dawn.
For a generation, General Motors and Volkswagen have been focused on manufacturing autonomous vehicles for everyday public use. An initiative which began as a defence sector project to provide self-guided battle craft, has become a marketable public transport solution. If the auto-cabs we see on our streets within five years have a voice, they will smoothly declare: “This isn’t just innovation, this is marvellously spectacular innovation.”
I want one. I want a car that knows where I am because of the GPS signal from my phone; that will pick me up at an inconvenient time without complaining, and which will appease the growing burden of my environmental conscience by producing only water as a waste product.
This week, The Times (insert link http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/driving/news/article6792747.ece)featured an alien spaceship-like autonomous taxi, the article confirmed that Heathrow Airport will begin using the system to ferry travellers from Terminal Five to their car park. Wily blog commentators suggested the system would be better employed shuttling luggage, given that the taxis are supposed to know where they are going. The biggest hindrance to a general roll-out of this technology is the unresolved question of liability – Certain airlines have interesting customer service approaches to liability, maybe this would be a starting point? Not withstanding liability issues, which insurers will certainly overcome, several city councils are looking at introducing the system. That’s all great, but it misses the truly revolutionary point – this isn’t a road safety device, it’s a time saving device.
Two thirty minute journeys each day, over a working week, during which time, you are in the comfort of your own car, without having to think about the journey – that’s a lot of wireless emailing, a smart report, weekly sales figures completed. The opportunity cost of not having an automated vehicle is too high for most executives.
General Motors has not been known for its altruism, so when it spends billions of dollars on creating an automated, hydrogen fuelled urban car, you know the numbers are going to make sense somewhere down the road. The cost of installing 12,000 hydrogen refuelling points across the United States is approximately $12bn – that’s about half the cost of building an Alaskan pipeline. With 12,000 fuel points, that’s generally one pump every two miles, and one every 25 miles on a highway. If the cost of hydrogen is lowered with greater volume production, and a fuel network is established, the combustion engine could be removed from our roads. That is a huge result in many policy areas. The only waste product of hydrogen fuelled cars – is water.
Larry Burns, GM’s Vice President of Research and Development, has argued that four per cent of the energy production capacity of all the cars in the USA is equal to the total capacity of the US national grid. Burns maintains that a switch to hydrogen fuelled cars would actually be able to supply energy to the national grid.
If this all sounds like little cars running around neat city streets, you need a new vibe in your car stereo. An automated, completely driverless Volkswagen Touareg – really not a small car - completed a 130-mile cross-desert race in record time to win one of the worlds toughest automotive challenges. Created by the Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL) and Stanford University, the winning Touareg (nicknamed ‘Stanley’) covered the course in 6 hours, 53 minutes and 8 seconds – 11 minutes and 42 seconds faster than the nearest finisher.
A total of 23 vehicles began the challenge which took place over 130-miles of desert roads, mountain trails, dry lakebeds and tunnels using only on-board sensors and satellite navigation equipment with no human assistance. The course was revealed on the morning of the start and rules stipulate it must be completed in under 10 hours - the Touareg managed this easily with over three hours to spare.
This next generation of urban transport is mean, green, and almost ready to roll. The driving force is not good will, or good science; it is market pressures and market opportunity. Burns describes the strategy as: “Do unto yourself, before others do unto you.” The speed of life is about to move up another gear.
Urban Transport – Must Watch:
Larry Burns, Ted Talk On Reinventing The Car: