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Self driving vehicles: a disruption in the making V

Mobility as a Service will become a huge market as result of the uptake of autonomous systems reaching a staggering 7 trillion $ by 2050. Credit: Intel

Car manufacturers have already started to wonder how to re-invent themselves at a time when the value perception of their customers will be significantly different and new players might be better placed to offer the new values sought by customers.

The shrinking of the market for vehicles (with an expected decrease of 50%) and the transformation of mobility platforms into commodities will further decrease margines and will require a broad footprint, hence the consolidation in the manufaturing industry. At the same time, opportunity for services will grow significantly resulting by 2050 in a 7 trillion business. 

Services will be software based, software is the new OIL, and will thrive on data, hence companies that have a strong footprint on software and data, like Amazon, Google and Uber, are well positioned to take the upper hand. Additionally, these companies may leverage on indirect business models displacing those companies that cannot use them.

By 2050 most cars will run on electricity. This electricity needs to be produced, distributed and transfer to the car.

We are talking about a huge amount, much greater that the present capability of production and distribution. Replacing petrol in cars will require to more than double today’s production of electricity as well as creating a new distribution grid. Most likely we will see decentralised micro production, able to decrease transportation cost and waste, and new ways of balancing the grid that will transform from a top down structure to a mesh structure.

The transfer of power from the grid to the car is a crucial issue that is going slow down or accelerate the shift towards electrical and autonomous systems. The time to recharge a battery is way longer than the time it takes today to refuel a car and although several researches are underway to takle this issue a practical, safe solution is not yet in sight.

Battery swapping might become the practical way for fast recharging. Thousands of swapping points may be deployed, completely robotised, where the vehicle can dock (autonomously, as the power level falls below a certain thresholds) and the robotic system swaps the discharged batteries for a new, charged, set. The discharged batteries are placed on a recharging bank and as soon as they are charged will be made available to other cars. It could also be expected to have moving swapping point, special vehicles, truck like, transporting  fresh (charged) batteries aroud to service vehicles that are running low on power, wherever it can be more convenient to bring batteries to vehicles rather than vehicles to batteries.  Actually, one might foresee a mesh of vehicles that depending on the charge status and their direction will swap batteries on the go. If a car coast another having a fuller battery and that car is driving near a battery swapping point it would make sense to swap batteries on the go letting that car to change the battery at the official swapping/recharging point.

As you can see a quite articualted powering infrastructure will be developing with vehicles becoming an integral part of it.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently the Chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and up to September 2018 he was the Head of the EIT Digital Industrial Doctoral School. Previously, up to December 2011, he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.

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