Over my 3-4 decades of working in transportation and industrial applications, there was always a lament over how fast new things get done in the consumer electronics world. In 3 weeks, CES will be going on in Las Vegas with everyone demonstrating new ideas and products, many of which will not have existed at this time last year. Each year, car companies have increased their participation.
So, you might think that the pace of new product development has shortened. Alas, I don’t think so. Apple Car Play and Android Auto came into existence in some form in 2011 on a BMW vehicle. Hundreds of car models have announced availability, but few have actually hit the road. And, what about in a truck/tractor? I’ve not even seen an announcement of it coming in the future and don’t know of a single vehicle with it today.
At the other end of the spectrum, is how long it takes to implement changes in infrastructure. Just one major interstate project is the rebuild of I-75 in just a small portion of Michigan. It’s expected to cost $1 billion and take 14 years to complete. Another infrastructure project in Seattle is intended to create a tunnel to replace an elevated roadway. It started in 2007 and is expected to be completed in 2023, just 16 years later. It’s interesting that this is the 60th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System approved by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. I’m not sure if a small portion of I-95 in Pennsylvania that was planned as part of the original legislation has been completed or not.
This week, I saw announcements for trials of wireless charging of electric vehicles in the road in the UK, Sweden and Ohio. Last week Nikola advanced a proposal to develop a nationwide infrastructure for hydrogen for its new electric truck. CNG and LNG networks have been building out for 5 or more years already. Tesla started developing its own electric charging network in 2012. These are great ideas, but, if it takes on the order of 15 years to complete a road construction project after all the design and approval times, it must be a few years yet before we will see such systems fully deployed.
This week, the DOT announced the requirement for future passenger cars and light trucks to have Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communications. The next step is to issue guidance on Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) communications, which will work together. Alas, the rules for trucks are out a ways.
Part of our hope for the future is a renewed emphasis on road infrastructure. Maybe something on the order of President Truman’s Interstate Highway plan. President-elect Donald Trump wants to “transform America’s crumbling infrastructure.” He released a white paper in late October which is now coming up for heated discussion in the press.
There is a disconnect between the cycles for development of new electronics for consumers, the electronics to support autonomous vehicles, the electronics needed for infrastructure, the mechanical design of vehicles, and the implementation of new infrastructure to support it all. Only a long term strategy can make it a reality decades from now.