The Electronic Automobile: EVs now, AVs later

The hype surrounding electric cars (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs) has been a constant theme for the past several years. Despite significant progress, the automotive industry still has a long way to go. Although EVs are now available, self-driving cars (AVs) are still not ready for consumers. It takes time to do it right, just like with complex things such as EVs or AVs. Here is my current view.

The Current State of EVs

Car and Driver is my favourite automotive magazine. Its July/August issue had extensive coverage on the latest EVs. The magazine tested 11 models, and one was named the “EV of Year.” I’m going to sum up, what I know about the latest crop of EVs:

  • Electric vehicles are still very expensive. The majority are over $50K, with a few lower-end models at $40K.
  • EVs are very fast. General acceleration from 0 to 60 mph takes 4 to 6 seconds, and the quarter-mile in 11 to 15 seconds, much faster than the average internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle.
  • Nearly everyone uses a lithium-ion battery.
  • All test cars had a range of over 200 miles, while Tesla’s was more than 300. This is comparable to ICE cars in terms of range and should end the range anxiety for most consumers.
  • Many buyers overlook the need to include the cost of the charging device at home.

There are still very few public charging stations. It all depends on where you live. Few I see are not occupied with vehicles completing their 30 minute plus charges.

The Car and Driver “EV-of-the Year” is a Ford Mustang Mach E.

In 2020, EVs accounted for just 1.8% of all automobile sales. According to some reports, Tesla accounts for 70% to 80%. One prediction estimates 10% EV sales by 2025. Recently, the president asked for 100% EV sales by 2030. I don’t believe those numbers unless the government takes drastic action to make them happen.

Most people find EVs a difficult transition. Numerous questions remain unanswered, too. Can I tow my 30 foot RV/boat and two jet skis along with my EV? What happens if my EV runs out of juice while driving on the highway? AAA will come with a huge battery or generator to give you a long-lasting charge. What is the life expectancy of an EV battery? Is it reliable in winter? Add your question here.

AV Angst

I have always thought AVs were a bad idea. What do I know? According to estimates, the global AV industry is worth $54 billion. Most of this goes to R&D.

A few hundred or more test AVs driving around the country to evaluate the effectiveness of the latest sensors, artificial-intelligence software, and low-latency processors. AVs are robots or drones and must be extremely safe as driving is a dangerous activity.

AVs are still primarily designed to reduce the number of accidents while driving and make the process safer. It’s an acceptable reason to invest all that money and effort. Driving is safer than ever right now because millions of people wouldn’t otherwise be doing it. Although AVs might move the needle on your driving meter by a few clicks, it seems that people aren’t ready for them.

Recent surveys show that 43% of Americans don’t feel comfortable or safe in a driverless car. A few of the people I spoke to who had been on an AV trip described it as creepy. Is it something you can trust or not? Moreover, most people enjoy driving or, at the very least, don’t mind it.

However, extensive testing of AVs has revealed a lot of accidents and even a few fatalities. Every driving experience is risky.

It is interesting to note that long-distance trucks will be the first full-scale deployment of AVs. Trucks can stay on straight interstates, which can relieve human drivers who get tired or bored and must continue getting the load to their destination on time. Only a human driver is needed to drive the truck into the narrow loading dock.

Is it worth buying AV 18-wheelers? It is, in fact, a good idea as it will save trucking companies tons of money. Aren’t 18-wheeler crashes more costly than auto accidents? Is AV technology going to make a significant difference in safety and enrichment for transport companies? Soon we will find out.

Overcoming AV Challenges

Some initial issues with AVs have been solved. LiDAR, which is the main sensor of an AV’s AV, was originally horrendously costly. There are now lower-cost options. Some reports suggest that Tesla has abandoned radar and LIDAR in favour of better video. They claim that video cameras perform better than the LIDAR radar mix.

The machine-learning AI has also improved, and it is now possible to run on faster processors. Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), found in modern automobiles, are improving with each model year. This will all help the AV effort.

Next is adding communications. It will come in some form of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) radios that will let vehicles talk directly with one another and to sensors and other data sources in the city infrastructure.

This application has been made possible by two technologies: dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) and cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X). Vehicles within 300 meters of each other can automatically exchange status information and adapt or adjust accordingly. Both systems use a 20 MHz portion of the 5.9GHz band. C-V2X uses LTE, with an anticipated 5G future. DSRC uses a WiFi variant called WAVE.

Vehicles should be safer if they have a communication capability. Although such technology is not yet available, it will be in the next year. To make the system work, however, many vehicles will need to have these radios.

Radially innovative technology is often more difficult to adopt. Many other factors to consider, such as marketing, policy decisions, insurance considerations, government regulations, and engineering. The fully automated Level 5 AV is still many years away. Some say it could be decades. We will see.

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