Recent stories about problems at Tesla have led analysts to describe wildly different outcomes with regard to the company’s stock price. Worst case scenarios proliferate, some forecasting the stock price to fall to range of $10-$12!
In addition to the specific projections concerning Tesla, the current pessimism concerning the company tends to cast a pall on the future of electric-powered vehicles in general. What is lost in this and other stories of electric on-road, conventional vehicles (and these would include the vaunted Ford-VW alliance and Daimler-Benz’s 2017 announcement of $11 billion investment in 10 electric vehicle models by 2022) is the much broader concept of electric mobility, in which a wide range of technologies are participating.
As these technologies come together on mobile platforms, it is likely that the planned or gated community is the sort of environment where early commercialization and use will take place.
Technologies converging on the electric mobility market
Some of the technologies and products feeding into the electric mobility market are discussed in the following. One key aspect of these technologies is that all of them serve multiple markets. None are solely dependent on the market for personal transport, thus making each a better prospect for capital funding and sustained development.
Artificial intelligence—This technology is being developed for virtually limitless applications from manufacturing to product distribution—and, of course, automotive and mobility. AI systems employ data acquisition, data storage, and algorithms which give direction to external components, without human intervention. AI not only processes signals from sensory devices, but is capable of learning in the process of doing.
LiDAR—One of the sensory device technologies is LiDAR, and as a descriptive term is the combination of “light” and “radar”. To detect objects at a distance LiDAR and measure that distance, LiDAR systems send out near-infra-red light pulses that reflect off objects and returned to the LiDAR module. The process of sending out and receiving reflected light signals allows the system to measure distances, as well as the shapes and conformations of the objects detected.
One of the important manufacturers of LiDAR systems is Velodyne LiDAR, based in San Jose, CA. Initial LiDAR installations on the roof of vehicles were large and bulky. Velodyne’s Puck™ line of LiDAR products has compressed the device to a significantly smaller size which allows more flexible installation and preserves style features of a vehicle.
LiDAR systems have a wide range of applications besides the self-driving developments in the automotive market. Applications include topographic mapping, undersea of bathymetric mapping, and warehouse sorting systems.
Sensory systems continue to develop in the form of sensor fusions with Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR), Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), and optical sensors (cameras). While all these systems serve multiple markets, the self-driving and Autonomous Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are a major market, based on its potential size.
5G—5G refers to the new, wireless data transmission protocol that promise data transfer speeds of 1 ms in mobile—particularly automotive—applications. This is up to five times faster than currently used systems and basically means that mechanical responses to external events (such as braking to avoid a rear end collision) will take place at speeds comparable to the reactions of an alerted human. Note the adjective “alerted”, by which is meant a human driver becoming aware of a dangerous situation just prior to taking action to avoid it. As many accidents are occur because of inattentiveness, or emotional mindset, these, in particular, could be avoided in autonomous vehicles.
Wireless communications will play a critical role in keeping the entire ecosystem of vehicles, infrastructure, and pedestrians in an interactive framework of greater driving safety. 5G is the latest upgrade to ADAS and autonomous vehicle technologies insure greater safety by sharing and receiving critical safety information, movements of other vehicles and pedestrians, traffic information, and road conditions.
As with LiDAR and other sensory systems, which they complement, 5G software development and applications will serve many markets, and will deliver, according to many analysts, trillions of dollars in value added in the coming decades.
Electric motor advances for small vehicles
While the technologies cited above will come to the gated communities and smart suburban and urban environments over the next few years—initially perhaps in driverless shuttles, which are actually in current operation at various sites in the United States, there are performance upgrades available on the market that fill the gap between your golf car type PTV and that small vehicle that lies in our future—that is, the one that takes us beyond the gates and safely so.
Four of these upgrades are motors, three of which, admittedly, will require the services of a skilled mechanic for a retrofit and may be worth the wait until an enterprising start-up, upgrader, or traditional manufacturer—Club Car, E-Z-GO, Yamaha—takes it on.
Here are the first three, electric motors, which when adopted, will provide major gains in PTV performance and become desirable components in small, urban mobility vehicles, as well as autonomous electric-powered shuttles.
- Ashwoods axial flux permanent magnet motors—Based in Harcombe Cross, Chudleigh, the U.K., Ashwoods exhibited their scalable axial flux PM motors at the 2018 PGA Show. For traction applications, meaning among other applications, golf car-type vehicles, the company offers a standard shaft design, which, “…allows easy rotor implementation on numerous gear designs and axle mounts.” The customisable adapter plate can also be used with a variety of direct transmission drives.
- Nidec (Japan), Bosch (Germany), and Dana (U.S.) all make e-axles and some designs involve integrating an electric motor. Bosch is aiming to supply all European vehicle classifications, including Class d for mini-cars. I was unable to confirm at the time of this writing a specific model or product line for golf car-type vehicles, but as these vehicles are extended beyond up-graded golf cars to what might characterized as a mini-car, the e-axle should be a prominent component.
- Elaphe, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, produces a line of in-wheel electric motors in a variety of sizes. The smallest motor (or set of two motors for rear wheel mounting) fits a 14-inch rim and generates 29.3 kw of continuous power. In the array of small, task-oriented vehicles, 14-inch rims are found mainly in the off-road market, but customization of PTVs could accommodate a larger rim and tire size.
As with the new technologies discussed above this sampling of electric motors have multiple markets throughout the spectrum of mobile applications.
Drop -in radical upgrades for older PTVs
Easier and less upgrades are real drop-in packages are available for more immediate performance improvements. Underlying, across the board, with regard to mobile product electrification, is lithium power. Without lithium batteries the entire concept of mobile electrification is virtually a dead issue. Lithium batteries are, of course, being extensively used in mobile applications. Both Club Car and E-Z-GO have introduced lithium batteries in various 2018-2019 models. The number of such models will, no doubt, grow.
What about you currently owned PTV, running on lead acid? Two companies, so far, have drop-in, lithium battery solutions. One is ReLion Battery and the other Trojan (Trillium). ReLion touts the fact that its batteries can be linked together in parallel connection to achieve the desired level of power and torque. Both companies’ products feature a battery management system (BMS) that is adaptable to the chargers previously used to charge lead acid batteries.
And if you would like to retrofit an entire kit composed of lithium battery, permanent magnet motor, and controller, look up SilverWolf in Waterloo ON, Canada. According to company information, this retrofitted kit boasts the following:
- 12HP ACPM Motor
- 840 Amp AC Controller
- Bluetooth Smart Vehicle Module
- On-The-Fly Phone App
All this for just under $2,000.
Where, when, how: do these new systems and technologies come together in a viable market?
These, of course, are the three $64,000 questions. I have run out of space to discuss the pathway and the market goals by which and toward which these technologies are taking us. One thing to remember, however, is that all the products and their embedded technologies discussed here are either on the market or in serious and promising development. So, yet another instance of the overused tagline, “The Future is Now”.
Contact the Author: Steve Metzger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or check out our website at www.smallvehicleresource.com, where you will find an extensive database of vehicle models and can make side-by-side comparisons of vehicles based on a full set of specifications.