Thursday, 7 April 2016

Three Ways Automotive Tech Will Reshape Our Lives Beyond Cars

There’s a lot going on in the world of cars these days.

Uber, Lyft and many other rideshare companies continue to battle it out for market share and disruptive dominance, leaving the centuries old tradition of taxi services to die out a slow, miserable death.

The big car manufacturers (along with outsiders from the tech industry) are on a race to make driverless cars a reality.

Elon Musk’s Tesla just stomped through the electric car market with whopping pre-order earnings for a car that won’t even be on the road for at least a year at the earliest.

It’s an exciting time for cars and transportation as technology slowly penetrates the form factor of these once “dumb” vessels. And as innovation fuels the sector, the mad dash of one company to beat the other results in huge cultural transformations that provide solutions to other parts of life unrelated to the automobile itself.

Elon Musk's Tesla is steamrolling the electric car market. But it might flatten home energy, too. Image: Kavi Guppta.

Elon Musk’s Tesla is steamrolling the electric car market. But it might flatten home energy, too. Image: Kavi Guppta.

Let’s look at three interesting areas where automotive tech is reshaping life beyond the car:

1. WiFi everywhere

Despite the progress we’re making with how we produce intelligent cars, access to stable and affordable WiFi is still a problem–especially in countries like India where infrastructure is lacking in so many areas. We’ve launched balloons into the sky, turned old pay phones into hotspots, and more. Now Ola, Uber’s major rival in India, hasannounced plans to turn its fleet of active cars into roaming WiFi hubs. It’s another experiment in the journey to making WiFi in cities accessible from anywhere. Each iteration will unfold new learnings to improve the approach companies and municipalities enact.

2. Recover idle real estate

Finding good parking is one of the worst things about driving in any city. Studies show that 30-60 percent of cars are mostly driving around in circles looking for a spot to claim. That burns 47,000 gallons of gas and creates 730 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.How wasteful is that? Driverless cars might change the need for parking, especially if ridesharing has anything to do with it. Imagine this: your driverless car drops you off at work, and rather than parking itself and sitting idle for eight hours, it zips off to find someone else in need of immediate transport. These cars will never have to rest (and if they’re electric, they won’t be as harmful to the environment) or take up more space than necessary. All those ugly parking lots that dot the landscape? They’re freed up to become new urban centers for parks, recreation, and living.

3. Renewable energy

A major concern of electric cars has been battery life. How far can a car go before it needs a recharge? As Elon Musk works furiously to improve the function of electric vehicles, Tesla’s iterations on its automotive electric batteries have found a new use case in powering our homes. The technology performs the same task of balancing recharge via solar energy, or shifting capacity if tied to a regular power grid. Early trials will set you back between $10,000-$18,000, but continued experiments will undoubtedly bring down those steep entry prices. In addition, the experiments have the potential to fill Tesla’s (and Musk’s) pockets with plenty of cash should the venture be successful. It helps to have a head start with existing resources and evidence under your roof.

Like any cultural zenith–the space race or first and second world wars for example–our ambition and drive to succeed results in fascinating use cases for unrelated problems. The automotive industry’s progress is just another contribution to our constant transformation.

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