If you have been following the automotive industry over the past few years, then you have been witness to the exponential growth in not only electric vehicle (EV) technology but also autonomous vehicles. With companies like Tesla, Chevy, Mercedes-Benz, and Google leading the way, the cars that we see on the roadways will not only be driving themselves, but will also undergo significant other changes in the coming years.
On March 31st, Tesla launched the Model 3 which has been hailed as the “electric vehicle for the masses” and has seen significant response by way of production reservations. I recently had a conversation with my mom and was telling her that I had decided to reserve a Model 3. I started listing off some of the features such as its complete dependence on electricity and the option to put it into “Auto Pilot” mode. The response I was expecting was somewhere along the lines of ‘Wow, that sounds cool’, but what I got instead was a skeptical “So it’s basically a car from the Jetsons?”
Parking? No Problem!
While the technology and cars that are being released today are not exactly on par with those from the cartoon the Jetsons, they certainly are pushing the technology to points we could only earlier dream about. Unlike George Jetson, your car doesn’t fold up into a nice small briefcase which you can simply carry in with you once you have arrived at your destination, but that doesn’t mean that future cars can’t help alleviate some of the hassles of parking.
The first way such technology could be used in the logistics world, specifically in vehicle compounds, is as a means of loading, unloading, and parking vehicles in the terminal without the need of human interaction. Basically through the use of the self-guiding programs, it would be possible to activate a car and send it instructions on where it should park itself within the compound. What this would offer the logistics world is not only a highly efficient way of managing and moving vehicles within the compound, but it would also ensure that any possible human error is taken out of the equation.
On the consumer side of things, a self-guiding and self-parking car would be able to reduce and potentially eliminate downtown congestion and parking issues by dropping off it’s “driver” and then guiding itself to a designated parking facility outside of the city where it can wait to be recalled. Gone would be the days of endlessly circling the block looking for a parking spot close to your destination or frantically searching the parking garage because you don’t remember where you parked. One quick click on the app would tell your car it is needed, and with an ETA clock on your phone screen, you know it will show up outside in exactly ten minutes.
The Cars of Tomorrow, The Roads of Today
I can imagine that when the first automobiles hit the streets back in the 1800s the logistical problems were endless. First of all, there was no infrastructure in place. Streets and fueling stations were more horse paths and water troughs than freeways and gas stations. The first movers who bought an automobile didn’t depend on it for daily transportation to work, soccer games, book clubs, or the ever important coffee run. It’s likely that in 1886, when the first petrol powered car motored its way down the street, finding a source for gasoline was an issue. But once a station was found, drivers could quickly fill up and be on their way. In the world of EVs, where charging can take hours to have a full charge, simply rolling up to the charging station and knowing it will be available isn’t currently a possibility. Even as charging stations become commonplace, there will still be a need for better logistical processes.
Recently, my colleague Michael Schwemmle wrote an article on how rest areas are frequently over congested on the German autobahns, and how intelligent planning could solve some of the stress drivers face. What Michael covers is the exact same issue that I can foresee happening once more mass market EVs are on the road. Just as a system could be utilized to show truck drivers where there are empty parking spots in rest areas and help them plan their rest times, so too could a similar solution communicate between stations and cars to let them know that a station is full, or suggest an early charging stop if the next available station is out of range.
Car technology can offer us many possibilities when it comes to making our lives easier, but it cannot do it alone. While we continue to push the introduction of safer technology systems such as self-guiding and hopefully self-driving cars, we also need to be developing the infrastructure and related technologies needed to support them. Though I am looking forward to taking delivery of my Model 3, I am also glad that it will be at least a year or more before it will arrive. That is a year for the hardware infrastructure to be developed but also a year for people to get started on developing intelligent tools to connect all of the pieces of the puzzle and make the transition to alternative fuels less painful. Is it the car from the Jetsons? Not yet, but hopefully we will get there.