Autonomous, i.e., self-driving, vehicles, are approaching convergence with another automotive technology that is also rapidly maturing: electric vehicles. What’s the advantage of self-driving electric vehicles? Safer streets and cleaner cities.
Jonathan Levine, professor of urban planning at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan pointed out to me on the phone today that autonomous vehicles have to potential to greatly reduce the amount of traffic in urban areas. That’s because they will make the sharing of vehicles much easier. A self-driving car will be able to pick you up at your home or business, and then go pick up the next nearest passenger.
An electric self-driving car will also have to potential to recharge itself when needed, with the help of inductive charging technologies just beginning to enter service.
Joe Barrett, senior director of marketing at mobile phone chipmaking giant Qualcomm, filled me in today on a project emerging from his company: Halo.
Halo was a University of Aukland spinoff that was acquired by Qualcomm a couple of years ago for wireless electric vehicle charging.
With Halo, a charging pad embedded in pavement throws off a magnetic field that interacts with a pad in the underside of a car parked above it. Barrett says the system has demonstrated greater than 90% efficiency in transferring energy from the pad to the vehicle in a process known as induction. The same underlying technology is commonly used to charge electric toothbrushes. Qualcomm has been licensing the technology to automakers and is working toward so-called dynamic charging, where cars can recharge on the go, simply by driving over pads embedded in roads.
Barrett described his company’s vision of autonomous electric vehicles thusly:
“If you imagine your electric vehicle, you may drive it most of the time, but then when you get out of the car at work, you want it to go and park itself. But then it’s going to have to park and charge itself, so the charging bay will have to be wireless because the car cannot plug itself in. So in that situation, you will need wireless charging. In the same way if you have car share. You may sit at home. You want to order a car share. The car will drive itself to you. You will get in it, you will go to your destination, you will get out, and you will send it away. Again [it] will need to go and find a wireless charging bay to charge up because, again, it can’t plug itself in.”
Barrett says we can expect to see wirelessly charged electric vehicles in production in 2017.