Our Autonomous Future

Is the electric and autonomous car feasible in America?

On July 5th we visited the Automotive Campus. After discussing smart and green mobility in the Netherlands, we learned what the Automotive Campus is doing to prepare for the future of transportation.

The Automotive Campus is one of the spearheads to the future of cars throughout the world. While working on making cars electric, they are also thinking ahead to a fully autonomous structure.

The Netherlands has a goal of having one million electric cars by 2025 as well as producing zero emissions from public transport by this same time. These goals and ideals are much more feasible for the Netherlands as compared to the US. In Holland fuel prices are very high and most people only travel a short distance by car (given the size of the country), making it attractive to go electric. Whereas in the US fuel prices are relatively low and people travel by car much farther distances, making electric more of a hassle than a greener convenience for everyday life. Long distance travel isn’t conducive for electric vehicles because they cannot hold enough power to go from say North Carolina to Texas.

Students work toward developing their own sort of electric car. These people are the future of the electric car and possibly the autonomous car in the future!

In terms of zero emissions, the Netherlands hopes that by using electric bus systems and light rail that it can reduce its emissions drastically, making the area a better and cleaner place to live. Something like this could not happen in America today. Our country isn’t even beginning to think in this way. They are making strides towards making public transit more accessible and affordable, but we are miles behind anything Europe is doing. Europe is the leader of our future. Americans are obsessed with their cars. Having a car is such a status symbol that people are not willing to give up quite yet. Because of this, it is hard to imagine the US spearheading this movement. While companies like Tesla are working towards electric cars and the autonomous structure, these items are financially infeasible for the average American. This idea serves to further separate the rich from the poor, a divide that needs to be broken if we are looking towards a future of fully autonomous cars.

Students at TU Delft are working on a prototype for the autonomous shuttle. Could this be the future for transportation around campus?

While the idea in America may seem far-fetched, the Automotive Campus is already looking into technologies and preparing for this inevitable future of autonomous cars. One thing that I found interesting was that they were working towards both the electric car and the autonomous car simultaneously. This was striking to me because once the autonomous car is created and widely used, the electric cars that are produced now will need to be taken out of the system. The technology will still be there, but for people to actually relax in their vehicles there cannot be steering wheels in cars. Has the Automotive Campus thought about what it would do in this scenario? Are they looking to retrofit existing cars or are they expecting both autonomous cars and personal vehicles to be driving simultaneously? The latter could be potentially dangerous given our innate unpredictability and would take away the inherent benefits of going completely autonomous.

The hope with a completely autonomous system is that it allows for more green spaces and services while doing away with large parking lots and stoplights. This is a future that we should be heading towards. My only concern is what will we do with all the extra waste. If we uproot existing parking lots for parks, where does this debris go? Where do all the preexisting cars go? While I think the idea is great and that it will make our world a safer and greener place, there are a lot of questions that need to be raised before this can become a reality.

-Megan Gwynn