In the age of electric vehicles (EVs), the simple idea of getting from point A to point B is being reinvented in countless ways. Each battery-powered innovation showcases a whole new way of mobility, some of which we never thought to be possible before. Electric jetpacks, solar cars, and electric trucks, right down to the electric boards like Segways, are live and recent examples. And if you had even a hint of what is going on in the automotive world, you would know that these EV innovations are not going to stop anytime soon.
Need examples? How about flying taxis? Or a solar-powered car with a charging requirement for about half a year in one go? Yes, these sound like outlandish and mind-boggling possibilities for now but so did aeroplanes at one point, until Wright Brothers proved everyone wrong. With the automotive industry at its peak, we have an army of such minds now, rethinking mobility in every way possible, in an attempt to bring the most viable and sustainable solution to the front.
And believe it or not, they are succeeding.
Sadly, there isn’t too much focus on these developments. I Googled “EV innovations 2022” the other day, just to see the latest ongoing in the world of electric vehicles. Most of the articles shared the scientific developments in battery technology – to increase their capacity (and range), to make them charge faster, or to make them safer in vehicles. While a battery is one of the most crucial parts of an EV, these articles simply skipped any innovations in the “vehicle” part of EVs altogether.
And that, right there, is the problem in the coverage of the umbrella term “EV” today. Almost everyone is trying to limit the term to battery-powered scooters or cars or trucks, or any other form of vehicle they are comfortable with. The fact is, as soon as you decide to use a battery to power a motor, the vehicle can be redesigned in any shape or form around it. Case in point – electric planes, helicopters, cars, trucks, buses, bikes, skateboards, skates, boats, submarines and even yachts, as luxurious as you can imagine.
It is astounding to see how a simple grasp of this fact opens up so many new ways to reinvent mobility. Here are some of the mind-blowing EV innovations which are in development as you read.
Yes, a taxi that flies. No, not your ordinary white (or black & yellow) sedan. Flying taxis are the next up-end mobility project under work by reputed entities like Uber, Audi, Airbus, Italdesign, Boeing and Bell Helicopters. The idea is to establish an aerial node-to-node network for travellers in a city. Much like airports, but on a smaller scale.
The concept emerged, that’s right, from the one fact you learnt above – electric vehicles can be shaped in any form. So for an entirely new purpose, emerged a completely new form of vehicles – called eVTOLs, short for electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles. The vehicles are being designed by several companies, with some already on to their flying demonstrations and tests.
Uber has an entire plan mapped out in its whitepaper. Named Uber Elevate, the company’s flying taxi plans promise a Gurugram to Connaught Place journey in under 6 minutes. It even claims that the eVTOLs will prove to be cheaper than Uber’s on-road cars in the long run. Now that is something we really wish to see around us ASAP.
A Solar Car that never runs out of charge
In 2018, I came across a 2-year-old EV startup named Lightyear. At the time, the company was in the process of making its first prototype – an electric car with solar cells embedded on its roof. The vision was to build a unique battery-powered EV, one that could charge itself simply from the sun’s rays.
Cut to 2022 and the very car is now up for sale for a jaw-dropping price of 255,000 Euros or just north of Rs 2 crore. The EV is called Lightyear 0. It can be charged, yes, like a conventional plug-in electric car, to gain an impressive 520 km of range in an hour of charging. Its WLTP range is 625 km, and the company says that it is able to gain 70 km worth of range additionally, through the sunrays in a day.
So, in theory, this is an EV that may never run out of battery charge, even if you use it every day. The company says that it will eventually try to peak the technology to a point where the EV charges its entire battery pack through solar energy.
One pedal cars
You read it right. Forget the ABC of driving as the Accelerator, Brake and Clutch. EVs have evolved to a point wherein they do not require the other two foot pedals and can run on just a single pedal with ease. A clutch, of course, has been rendered useless for a long, thanks to the automatic transmission in vehicles. Now automakers have even managed to club the accelerator and the brake into a single pedal.
How it works is simple. You press on the pedal to accelerate, and you lift your foot from it to brake. Note that this braking is not through the conventional brakes we have on vehicles. Instead, leaving the pedal initiates regenerative braking in the EV, a process that turns the kinetic energy of the car back into electricity and stores it back in the battery. Result – you get an extended range.
Such EVs also tend to have a regular brake for emergency braking. Though for the most part of their running, the single pedal is enough to both accelerate and decelerate. Interestingly, one-pedal cars have been selling in the market for a long and the concept is still gaining more and more adoption worldwide.
What is better than a car that drives on a single pedal? A car that drives entirely by itself. We all know self-driving cars are in the making and looking at Tesla Autopilot and other such autonomous systems, it is easy to see that the dream shall be coming to reality soon. What then remains, is to visualise all the ways in which this can be put to use.
Most electric car concepts that have emerged lately are embedded with autonomous technology. To amplify its use, these cars even showcase rotatable seats inside the vehicle, so that the occupants can simply turn around and face each other. While they chat and spend quality time together, the car drives itself to the destination with ease. Of course, there is still time before we see a completely (Level 5) autonomous, or simply a driverless car taking the road legally.
Elon Musk sketched his long-term plans for Tesla right at the start of the EV maker’s journey. Called the Part Deux vision, the plans mentioned a network of Teslas in the future which will act as robotaxis. As and when the autonomous technology on the cars is potent enough, he wanted the EVs to indulge in a ride-sharing program that carries passengers from A to B.
As per Musk’s original concept, this would happen when the EVs are sitting idle and the owner is not using them. Robotaxis will carry passengers in their idle time, while also collecting money for the owner from the job. Of course, there are several details that need to be filled in but it is easy to see how the idea makes sense once fully autonomous cars are in use.
In April this year, Musk hinted at a special class of vehicles for this cause too. These cars would be without a steering wheel or a pedal for any driver, and would instead be driven completely by Tesla’s Autopilot system. For now, the production date for the cars is expected to be 2024, though we all know Tesla and its overambitious deadlines by now.
Vehicle to grid charging
With the increasing use of electric vehicles, there is an unprecedented load on the electricity grid simply to keep their batteries charged and running. In this mix of things, some have offered a rather unique solution to the problem – reverse charging, from the electric vehicle to the grid. This means instead of drawing electricity from a point, such EVs with bi-directional charging can be plugged in to supply electricity to the grid.
Before you judge the idea, know that such vehicle-to-grid charging is already in use in some regions and serves a very important purpose. It is able to provide much-needed electricity to a region during peak load. Meaning when the houses and other infrastructure on the grid demand electricity the most, the EVs can come in handy to back it up through their batteries.
To encourage the habit, companies where the idea is in work even give incentives to EV owners charging the grid through their vehicles. This nullifies their expense on subsequently charging the EV. However, not many automakers are in on the idea, as they believe that the end-users are looking for batteries with high capacity and faster charge capabilities.