Monday, 28 December 2015

What might 2016 hold? Think transport...

The Red Flag Act (Pazyaythu, August 2015)
In looking back at my blog posts over 2015, my themes have been: higher education; reflection; careers; MOOCs; leadership; writing; pointing out things that we may take for granted; and the usual tips and hints on making life in the 21st century a little easier. Unusually, prediction wasn't on my 2015 blog horizon.

So I have decided to end the year with some future exploration, focusing mainly on transport; as I think there is a lot happening in this area.
  • Elon Musk's SpaceX is really gaining traction. The first successful launch and landing of the Falcon 9 has already happened, and - while I am sure there will be bugs that need sorting out - this is one of the first key steps to cheaper high earth orbit and space work. It will allow the permanent establishment of laboratories and the construction of interplanetary and deep space vessels (Davenport, 21 December 2015).

  • Elon Musk again: Tesla will be releasing the Telsa Model X in mid-2016. This seven-seat electric SUV is based on the 4WD Model S electric sedan with 762bhp, with a range of 400km on a full charge (Moss, 30 September 2015). The specs for this vehicle put it in the 'normal' range per fill of petrol or diesel engines.

  • Elon Musk again, again: we will be a year closer to the full-scale commercial release of the Tesla electric Model 3 sedan, going 680km on a full charge: and aimed at the higher-end sedan market (NZD$60k), but matching or exceeding BMW in performance. The Model 3 is likely to be previewed at 2016 auto shows (Auto Express, 12 November 2015).

  • Elon Musk again, again, again: because of the progress of the Model 3, we are also likely to see the prototypes for the next revision - Tesla's small electric town-car, the 'Model Y' (Anthony, 8 October 2015). This is the one I am waiting for, because I will probably want to buy one as my next car (and it may well be the last car I ever own). What would be really great is if Tesla teamed with Tata Motors to build, supported by a deal with Google. Then we would see the cheapest, smallest, cleanest and most reliable auto-drive car in the world.

  • Speaking of Google, the Google Self-Drive car project is about to gain some major traction, as a JV between Ford and Google is to be announced in January, "to build self-driving vehicles with Google’s technology, a huge step by both companies toward a new business of automated ride sharing" (Hyde & Carty, 22 December 2015). However, Tesla has released a USD$2500 downloadable self-drive OTA update for their already released models which is the FIRST public self-drive tech release (Forrest, 23 December 2015).

  • Never mind Uber nipping at the taxi market, self-drive is the start of a complete change in the private transportation model, as are electric cars. I can see a day when no one owns a car: we just order a pod using our smart phone. It turns up, we hop in, it delivers us to our destination as we work, chat or read, then goes to the next pick up. Taxi drivers should start thinking about investing in the tech sector if they want to stay in the transport business.

  • Speaking of the transport business, Warren Buffett is investing in US rail (MarketWatch, 17 September 2015). While this is pure speculation on my part, I think the near-maturing of automated vehicles (ie, self-drive technology) and access to long-life battery power might be driving his interest in this area. We could well see a resurgence in rail transport when freight can be delivered without paying staff, and the H&S risk that rail brings, supported by clean and long-life energy.

  • Which brings me to Elon Musk again, again, again, again: Elon Musk struck a JV deal with Panasonic in 2014 around the 'Tesla Gigafactory' where batteries are being made for the Tesla cars... and will shortly be produced as power sources for houses and businesses, apparently (Tesla Motors, 2014). I remember reading a SciFi novel by RA Heinlein where people had "shipstones" to power in their houses (Heinlein, 1982). This meant that there was no power company needed for mains supply, and, while I am not sure what the cost or the marketing will be, it is possible that Tesla will be creating long-term energy storage for essential services at first, but as the price comes down with the maturation of the industry, the use of battery over mains is likely to become more attractive, and safer. The deliver of battery power at a low cost for businesses and homes by Tesla would be a game changer, and makes me less hesitant about our NZ government's strategy to sell off portions of our power companies (Hidalgo, 2015; Tesla Motors, 2014).

  • All of which then brings me to safety. Google has had 53 cars trundling around California for the past couple of years, logging 2.1m kilometres thus far. Google publish all their self-drive car accident data, being very transparent about causes, circumstances and the results of their investigations. There have been 14 accidents so far involving the self-drive cars: almost all as a result of being rear-ended at lights by the non-self-drive car behind them in the traffic queue. No accidents have been caused by the self-drive car (though one was caused by the driver wrestling back control from the car, Wikipedia, n.d.). As a result, I think insurance companies will start to think quite seriously about risk and self-drive vehicles, and, as we start to reach commercialisation of these vehicles, we will see lower insurance premiums for self-drive cars over non-self-drive. This will lead, over time, to a significant premium differential. This will in turn drive - pardon the pun - a faster transition from non-self-drive.

  • And what about the commute? Other factors which I think will push the shift to self-drive will be productivity and health. The self-drive car will be a labour-saving device, allowing us to do some work during our journey to work or meetings. In addition, not having to feel the frustration of being at the wheel in traffic, not having to worry about finding the best route, a car park or worrying about accidents will mean we arrive at work without that ghastly daily dose of cortisol in our systems. The same is true for going home at night...

  • Legislation around the world almost universally requires a person to be at 'the wheel' in vehicles, and will generally need to be changed to permit self-drive cars. In the US, changed Nevada transport laws in 2012 allowed the first self-drive license (Wikipedia, n.d.). Already four years ago... and, although there still needs to be a person in the driver's seat, it already smacks a little of the 'groom with the flag walking ahead of the automobile' in 1900. The EU has a working party exploring harmonising of transport laws and allowing self-drive cars called "WP29" which is looking at intelligent transport systems and automated driving (Driverless Future, 30 December 2014). Legislation change is likely to be quick to help to combat inner city congestion, car parking shortages and an increased demand for public transport. And it really is likely to happen FAST. Five to ten years-type FAST (Roberts, 01 June 2015).

So when we think of the term 'automobiles', it appears that we might finally be going to get some. I am really looking forward to what comes in 2016.



1 comment :

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