The Disruptive Side of Auto Electrification - Software, Storage, Sidewalks & Parking Lots

January 29 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Transportation   Year: 2020   Rating: 1

electric carThe future you hear about on the news is not what it appears.

Yes, the 'electric car' is coming, but do not be fooled by first generation ideas being fed into the mainstream media.

The short term challenges are probably being understated as the transition will take many years to unfold.  But the long term disruptive changes are more profound than anything you might see on a 60 Minutes special featuring battery car owners in California.

Electric vehicles are likely to change our energy grid, roads, cities and suburbs in ways that are hard to imagine today.  

Software - Drive by Wire & The Digital Driving Experience
While stodgy Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pieces continue to characterize electric cars as expensive, wimpy cars-  there truth is that electric drive systems offer a lower cost manufacturing platform and a flexible software based driving experience.

Establish software and location based services to vehicles, and you create a foundation for revenue streams based on mobility services in a 'wired and connected vehicle'. (Not to mention 'pay per mile' funding streams for transportation infrastructure instead of paying per gallon taxes.)

Companies like Johnson Controls, Microsoft, Intel, Bosch (et al) are developing 'drive-by-wire' software and microcontroller solutions that can make a car sound and feel like a Ferrari, a Mini-van, or Sedan with the push of a button.  There is a huge upside in software-service sales that the digitize the driving experience.

Storage: Vehicle to Grid (V2G)  &  'Skateboard' Vehicles on Sidewalks

Storage brings the vehicle into the Energy Web
'Electric' refers to the motor, not the storage system.   Battery powered electric cars will be first, but expect to see integrated electric vehicles that combine batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. 

So what?

That means that we'll be driving around electric power plants that can be integrated into a dynamic 'energy web'. 

The idea of 'vehicle to grid' is now being picked up by the mainstream media and the Obama Administration.  We will be able to receiver energy from the grid ('plug in'), store energy from the grid, or deliver energy to the grid.  A typical 50 kW sedan vehicle could power 5 to 10 homes. 

Imagine how much power can be stored and transported inside a national vehicle fleet!  (Could our 'electron energy reserves' could surpass the capacity of large centralized power plants?)


Sidewalks - Changing Public Spaces with Skateboard Vehicle Chassis
Cars have been a 'Third Place' for many years now.  We eat in our cars, talk on our phones in our cars, some people work on their laptops in their cars.  

And this is only the beginning.  The electric car will be even more valuable as personal real estate.

The interior of electric vehicles (which have no mechanical systems) are likely to be much roomier than anything we know today.

Second and Third Generation Electric cars are likely to be build around a skateboard chassis that separate the vehicle propulsion systems from the 'driver' space.  Everything need to drive the car will fit inside a 12 inch thick chassis.

This modular chassis uses wheel based electric motors, drive-by-wire, and energy storage to eliminate all mechanical syustems fropm the car.  That means it will be cheaper to build vehicles. 

Designers will be able to reinvent the inside of the vehicle without having to accomodate the combustion engine, steering column or transmission box.

The interior will be more open and comfortable - and it will have electricity to power all your gadgets.

So imagine how we might transform sidewalk parking spaces and suburban parking lots into more dynamic public environments. 

The Next Great Land Grab - Plug in cars?  Or Plugging into our cars?

The skateboard chassis vehicle could once again reinvent the city and suburb around more valuable mobile real estate.

Homeowners might place premium value on the parking space in front of their houses.

Retailers might redesign parking lots to attract mobile nomads.  Why go inside the Starbucks when you can hang out with friends in your own car?

This area of public space and urban design is probably the hardest to wrap our head around.  But the incentive to turn our parking lots into more livable public spaces could be one of the most disruptive ideas of the next century.



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Comment Thread (3 Responses)

  1. Gary: Thanks for the article … very informative and thought-provoking.


    Posted by: juldrich   January 31, 2009
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  2. Ok, so we’ll have these electric cars with skateboard chassis and they’ll be comfortable and let you plug your gadgets… Can you explain why it will change… the sidewalk?

    Posted by: johnfrink   February 01, 2009
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  3. Glad you enjoyed it Jack…

    Re: John’s ‘Sidewalk’ question—-

    It changes the real estate value of sidewalks. The car becomes a place that we hang out for work/life. Look around today- and cars site idle on sidewalks and parking lots- with no human activity. No economic activity.

    Not sure it’s the best analogy—but imagine the value of ‘coach’ / cafe real estate pre-laptops and freelance workers.

    I’m in a cafe now—with 20 people on laptops- who just spent at least $5 each to sit on a coach. 15 years ago they would have paid .50 for a cup of coffee and been on their merry way. No they stay. And they pay.

    So the value of sidewalk and parking lot space evolves when people stay. They’ll want more control over area around them, more services, et al.

    So imagine suburban Starbucks will want to transform their parking lot space to accommodate people that stay in the vehicles.

    Imagine an urban restaurant with overflow crowds on a Friday night- will want that parking space in front of their business to service people.

    Posted by: Garry Golden   February 04, 2009
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