It is a great time to be a professional futurist working in the automobile sector!! We see clearly how quickly change can happen- and how the public’s most deeply held assumptions about the future can be revised in only a few years.
The recent string of announcements coming from Detroit, Japan, China and the rest of the automotive sector suggest big changes ahead. Yes, it will take years to unfold, but the shift toward the electrification of the world’s transportation sector has begun.
Between 2010-12 consumers can expect to see first generation all-electric vehicles from nearly every major automobile manufacturer. The monopoly era of liquid fuels and the combustion engine has started its descent. By 2025 the industry might be in a position abandon this 19th century propulsion platform and begin a new era of electric propulsion with the help of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.
Accelerating change happened. We are now adjusting our outlook to reflect a convergence of new market conditions, shifts in the regulatory environment and new consumer expectations for positive change. And of course, materials science technology changed.
Detroit (and others) seem to be saying – “Nobody Killed the Electric Car, but would someone Please Kill the Combustion Engine!!
Last week General Motors released production model details for its all-electric extended range Volt. GM now seems to believe that the internal combustion engine might best be used to power the battery not the vehicle itself..
Who else has made statements about planned electric models for 2010-12? How about Toyota, Renault, BYD (China), Tata (India) and Mitsubishi?! And what about start ups like Tesla, Fisker, Zap, and Morgan.
And that doesn’t include all the aspiring vehicle makers in China and India who might see profits ahead around leap frogging into electric power train systems. Or visionaries in Ohio and Michigan who realize that electric vehicles could be a very good thing for revitalizing the ‘Rust Belt’ around high value added manufacturing. Now we have a green light for politicians to speak confidently about electric cars. The stigma is gone.
Yes, things will take time to change. But the public tends to focus on the new growth rather than the old technologies that fade away slowly. Adoption rates for electric vehicles might surprise us!
“If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” – Abraham Lincoln.
Grand Challenges can be defined as fundamental problems in need of solutions. An Energy Grand Challenge is indeed what its name implies – a competition to be challenged and won in regard to energy use, sustainability, cost, and efficiency.
Multiple teams enter as candidates to reach the goal, whether it is a certain level of fuel efficiency, carbon dioxide removal, or future energy solutions. The winner receives a prize, usually in the form of a generously large sum of money. But the Challenge’s impact, however, is not only on the team that wins the grand prize, but the technology that springs from the research, which can expand its positive influence to affect the world.
Imagine stepping into a local car dealership in 2020.
Does that new car look familiar by today’s standards? Or has it evolved in shape and style?
What powers that car of the near future in 2020?
Hybrids, plug-ins, electric motors, diesel engines, ethanol blends, biodiesel, synthetic fuels, veggie power, air power, natural gas, solar, batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, or the flux capacitor?
There are many ideas out there that could re-shape the auto industry in the next decade, but none is more important than how we power our vehicles.
If you are confused by the mixed messages you see in the media – welcome to our Futurist’s Guide to the Cars of 2020(Part 1- Powering the Car)
Q: What powers my new car in 2020?
We have two basic choices – liquid fuels or electrons.
Internal Combustion Engines (I.C.E.) use liquid fuels such as gasoline, next generation biofuels (bio-gasoline or biodiesel equivalents) or synthetic fuels. By 2020 most combustion engine vehicles are likely to accommodate a wide range of liquid fuels- but we expect that gasoline will retain its market position.
Electric motors use electrons fed by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors. Despite the mis-representation in most media reports, there is no fundamental difference between ‘electric’ cars and ‘hydrogen fuel cell’ vehicles – both use streams of electrons to power high performance electric motors. The phrase ‘electrification’ of the transportation sector includes electricity from batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.
General Motors is not afraid of the future. And it is not afraid to let go of the past.
On Tuesday the company released details of its production version of ‘Volt’ – the industry’s first Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) that will go into production in 2010.
And this is only the beginning.
GM’s plan to reinvent the auto industry starts with killing the combustion engine.
We believe the company has three strategies for the future:
#1 The Real Revolution is about Manufacturing
GM knows that in the next automobile revolution – it is not how you fuel a car that matters, it’s how you build it.
GM cares less about the price of oil, than it cares about the cost and complexities of building cars around the mechanical combustion engine. The Volt is important because the combustion engine is relegated to a new temporary task – recharge the batteries. The 21st century auto industry begins when we shift to modularity of electric motors (e.g. lower manufacturing costs, fewer factories).
#2 Design Matters
GM knows that design matters, and the bulky, mechanical combustion engine holds them back. If you eliminate the engine and regain 1/3rd of the vehicle chassis you can rethink how cars are built. Transition to ‘drive by wire’ systems for steering and braking – and you open up new potential for vehicle designs and upgrades.
#3 The breakthrough is Electric motors, not the batteries
GM knows auto-engineering. High performance electric motors have arrived. Now we need to develop systems to deliver the streams of electrons. The future of the automobile is not ‘all’ battery or ‘all’ fuel cell – it’s both.
The electric car is not an iPod. The battery is not our end game. It is merely one piece of the puzzle for electric propulsion. Batteries might have a short-term commercialization advantage, but the platform might struggle to evolve into the 21st century. The chemistry is bad. The costs are too high, and the performance is adequate at best. Future electric propulsion systems will integrate all three systems – batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Looking beyond the Chevy Volt
The GM Volt is big – because it is the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine. R.I.P.
With staggering gas prices and highway congestion, more and more people are looking for alternatives not just to make their cars more efficient, but to ditch their cars entirely. Dense, walkable communities with rail links to urban centers are becoming more recognized solutions.
An idea pushed by urban designers for years, it seems that transit oriented development is an idea whose time has come. America, and the livelihood of its people, are being choked by the most poorly planned out infrastucture in the developed world. We owe our energy consumption to suburban sprawl more than for any other reason. This settlement pattern, without question, is unsustainable, and is the main cause of both our economic and environmental misfortune.
A confluence of federal policy, think tanks, urban planners, and developers are now working on projects that will represent the future of American towns and cities. According to a new Congress for New Urbanism study, the suburban image of the American dream is being abandoned to a larger degree than most people realize. Housing prices in areas with poor transportation linkage are dropping precipitously. Because of sharp increases in gasoline prices, living closer to work has become an even more important consideration in the location decisions of homebuyers. In other words anyone interested in preserving the value of their home in the future should avoid suburbs like the plague.
Last week bloggers across the web from sites dealing with energy, the environment, tech gadgets, mainstream business and policy pushed up MIT’s press release of a major breakthrough in ‘solar-hydrogen energy storage.’
Engadget asked is the energy crisis solved?, Treehugger mirrored MIT’s spin of this Giant Leap and blog Comment sections were flooded with posts ranging from curiosity and praise to flames from skeptics.
The announcement came from the lab of MIT’s Daniel Nocera with work from Post-doc Matthew Kanan. The breakthrough was a low-cost catalyst able to use sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.
The twist? The catalyst is made of cheap, earth-abundant materials (cobalt-phosphates), works at room temperature and is designed for a low scale production ‘energy appliance’ units (not major centralized power plants).
Why the excitement?
It is a cost breakthrough for distributed hydrogen production and an advance from basic science to engineering for oxygen. The MIT approach also hints at how small energy appliances could become someday. And the media is reporting on the importance of energy ‘storage’.
MIT’s ‘giant leap’ was the most hyped story of the week and also likely the least understood.
So why is energy storage potentially disruptive for the future of the energy sector? (Continued)
With fuel prices rising with no end in sight, both consumers and
automobile companies have become more and more concerned with
fuel-consumption. While drivers attempt to cut down their gasoline
usage, automobile companies are researching and producing more
fuel-efficient cars, some to come out as early as next year.
Solutions range from hybrids, fuel-efficient engines, pure
electric, plug-ins, solar panels, and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Even with all these seemingly promising solutions, will we have
fuel efficient cars available for consumers at an affordable price
To help us imagine just what the market has in store for us over
the next 5 years here’s a timeline based on the self-reported
release dates of various major auto manufacturers (visual
first, followed by extensive text):
- Released by General Motors late 2008, early 2009, is the
Saturn Vue 2-Mode hybrid. Touted as the world’s most
fuel-efficient V-6 SUV, the Vue 2-Mode
hybrid has up to a 50% fuel economy increase for urban driving and
an overall 30% increase through the use technology such as
low-speed, electric only propulsion and regenerative breaking. It
will be classified as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.
- In February, Shelby SuperCars will be releasing the
Ultimate Aero EV, which will be the world’s fastest electric
car. SSC is known for the EV’s
predecessor, the Ultimate Aero, the world’s fastest gas-powered
car. The Ultimate Aero EV will have twin 500 hp electric motors
powered by a battery. Other details regarding its production have
not been disclosed.
- Sometime in the Spring, the next generation of Toyota
Prius will be released, equipped with solar panels that will
provide a portion of the energy to run the air-conditioning unit.
Toyota is planning on bringing 450,000 of these solar-power capable
vehicles to the market.
- Audi will be bringing out their 2009
A2, a compact, fuel-efficient car that manages to feature more
cabin space than Minis. The A2 will have 1.2 to 1.8 liter engines,
as well as diesels and will have a lowered amount of CO2 emissions, due to the European CAFE regulations.
Ah, space tourism. You ditched
Paris or Tokyo to the dismay of your spouse and now sit some 600
miles above Earth with an ice-cold Mojito in hand. “See, honey?
This isn’t so bad.” As you take a sip the pilot speaks over the
intercom about some turbulence. That’s fine you think, it can’t be
bad as the bumpy airplane trips to Los Angeles back when you were a
Just then, you see gold specks scream pass the window at 17,500
miles an hour, followed by the loud thud of a space helmet that
leaves a considerable dent in your window outside. The entire
space-plane trembles violently as red lights flood on. The pilot
reassures that it was just space turbulence and to strap on seat
belts. “This wasn’t mentioned in the catalogue” you thought, your
spouse giving you a look that you know all too well.
This may not be the common vision of space tourism but the
reality is that since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik back in
1958 there is an estimated one million pieces of junk floating in
orbit. Of those, 9,000 objects are bigger than a tennis ball, large
enough to cause catastrophic damage to moving space shuttles,
satellites, and space stations. Most are pieces from old satellites
and garbage left behind by previous missions. Adding to this mess
are nuts, bolts, and screwdrivers that have errantly drifted into
space from missions, and an expensive Hasselblad camera with exposed
pictures still inside.
According to the European
Space Agency, of the 5,500 tons of material in orbit, 93% is
junk that includes parts of old spacecraft, depleted rocket
boosters, garbage bags ,and even nuclear coolant. Each piece can
and are dividing into more pieces. Only 7% of the material in orbit
is operational spacecraft in use.
Besides posing an ethical problem of using our orbit as a
landfill, the junk pose a big problem to current and future
missions because of their ultra-high velocities in orbit. At 17,500
miles per hour, a millimeter speck of paint has the same amount of
energy as a .22 caliber long rifle bullet, a pea sized piece has
the lethal potential of a 400-lb safe traveling at 60 mph, and a
tennis ball sized piece of metal is essentially 25 sticks of
So what can we do about this junk? Is there a way to get it out
of orbit? Perhaps zap it? Or give it a nudge? (cont.)
In the future, your car will detect danger possibilities and
protect you as you encounter other cars on the road. It will
automatically display a happy, sad, or angry look to convey
appropriate feelings to other drivers in response to their action.
This is the vision of four Toyota Motor employees in Japan who
recently patented this creative technology.
Car modifications include a hood with slits and designs that
resemble eyebrows, eyelids and tears, which glow with different
light shades and colors to reflect desired moods; an antenna that
wags like a puppy dog’s tail to show happiness; and a body that can
crouch low on its wheelbase when timid, or stand tall to express
By 2015 or before, “cars with feelings” could be arriving at
dealer showrooms everywhere. These cars can display a wide range of
expressions to help us interact with other drivers on the road.
Today, we can only honk horns, tap brakes, flash headlights, or use
turn signals. It’s difficult to thank another driver for letting us
enter the lane, or to show disapproval at someone who cuts us
The intelligence system on these new cars with personalities
calculate road and vehicle conditions such as steering angle,
braking, and speed. It also correlates driver reactions, road and
car conditions, and automatically creates correct color and
position for the eyebrows, antenna, lights and vehicle height.
If a pre-set number of points indicate an approaching careless
or hostile driver, the system creates an anger reaction. The
headlights glow red, the eyebrows light up, but the antenna and
height remains in a standard “cool” position. A happy, satisfied
look is displayed to reward a courteous driver. A friendly “wink”
shows that you agree with a driver’s action, or it could also be an
attempt at flirting. (cont.)
In the sci-fi movie Minority
Report cars drive themselves, maneuvering unaided through
traffic. Though the film represents a more distant future, amazing
cars like these could be parked in your garage as early as 2020.
Imagine making the 270-mile trip from Los Angeles to Los Vegas
in tomorrow’s “smart” car. You hop in your car, tell it your
destination, and off you go. Traveling on an automated highway
system, sensors guide you in complete safety, at speeds up to 140
mph. You sit in the driver’s seat, but the car does the driving.
For your part, you kick back; read a newspaper, browse the
Internet, watch TV, or take a nap. In less than two hours, you
arrive in Las Vegas relaxed and ready for fun.
Some of the technology necessary to make this future happen is
already in our vehicles; cruise control, load-leveling, and
satellite navigation. The two steps that remain – allowing
computers to actually pilot the car, and developing the automated
highway system – are being tested now on a ten mile Interstate
highway strip near San Diego. Electronics in the roadway are
detected by sensors located in test cars, which feeds steering
information to the car’s computer.
In the wake of the computer and information revolutions, motor
vehicles are undergoing the most dramatic changes in capabilities
and how they interact with drivers since the early 1900s. The U.S.
Department of Transportation is spending more than $1 billion a
year to develop “human-centered” smart vehicles and intelligent
highway systems. The DOT believes this
technology is essential to handling the vast number of vehicles
expected on tomorrow’s roads. (cont.)
How long would it take for this guy to deliver your pizza?
This rocket man is a trained pilot and engineer, so it doesn’t
look like us laymen will be flying with these wings any time soon,
but I can see a lot of benefits such as first medical response,
amazing camera work, high-speed delivery and of course military
applications. However, I am optimistic that going tandem will be a
near term option.
Underwater cities have been a dream of futurists.
Starting from Atlantis to the evasive Captain Nemo.
The first underwater built city in Dubai was a scientific
breakthrough. Located just off the coast of the man made “World”
islands, it was the first under water facility capable of
sustaining prolonged life under water. It was built in the shallow
waters, merely ten meters from the surface allowing plenty of
natural light to seep through.
At first air was pumped from the outside until a new air
harvesting technology called “air farming” was adopted in 2020. Air
farming is literally a network of fields of sea plants, saturated
with pumps and filtering systems, extracting and transporting air
to the underwater city. The switch from external to internal air
came in 2022 which introduced a new era of development under water.
It was later discovered that air produced and extracted straight
from the ocean was so beneficial to human health that the
underwater cities quickly became the preferred choice for the rich
and famous. Nicknamed “Utopia”, it became the centre of the
scientific advancement. (cont.)