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How Electric Vehicles are Driving Growth of Autonomous Vehicles

( 01/20/2020 ) Written by: Prasanna Srinivasan

There is a trillion-dollar market developing around the world through the use of disruptive technology in driverless vehicles. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are expected to be designed as ACES (autonomous, connected, electrified, and shared). For AVs to infiltrate the streets by 2027, consumers note the need for faster-charging infrastructure, battery durability, longer range, safe and regulated technology, and protection of personal and vehicle data.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are strongly contributing to the widespread advancement and adoption of autonomous vehicles because:

  • Technology-focused early adopters want both innovations in the same car
  • It is easier to implement autonomous features on EVs (e.g. fewer moving pieces)
  • Wireless charging integrates seamlessly with autonomy
  • More efficient self-driving extends range, which is an EV pain point

An important thing to keep in mind is autonomous technology integrates better with electric engines. It’s estimated that fully autonomous vehicles would add an extra 200-300 pounds of technological equipment per car. Electric cars are easier for computers to drive—indeed, most EVs are built with drive-by-wire systems that replace traditional mechanical control systems with electronic controls, and these systems create a more compatible and flexible platform for autonomous driving technologies.

There are various benefits to autonomous vehicles being electrified as listed above. They are very complementary, technology-wise, but AVs as EVs mean required energy conversion due to the differences in voltage. One way for automakers to meet the power-hungry needs of self-driving systems will be to use gasoline-electric hybrid models rather than purely electric cars, at least for the first driverless cars. A big breakthrough in battery technology to offer plenty of range and autonomous functions is needed to achieve pure electric AVs. There is an expectation to move from lithium-ion batteries to solid-state. Solid-state would be safer, more compact, higher-capacity, yet higher cost but most experts expect it will be 10-20 years before fully commercialized.

A hierarchy has been defined with five levels of autonomous vehicles by the Society of Automation Engineers (SAE). The industry is currently at level two, and this can be defined as “partial automation,” which means the vehicle can automatically brake and steer, as seen with Tesla’s Autopilot, Mercedes Benz Drive Pilot, and Audi Traffic Jam Pilot, just to name a few.

The start of the next decade will see big changes towards full autonomy if technology, regulations, infrastructure & other factors align. Auto OEMs, startups, and others are touting the benefits of autonomous vehicles and in a highly advertised race to see who will be the first to market at each level. Unfortunately, while autonomous vehicles are currently possible, they require an extensive and expensive set of sensors and software along with exemptions from standard regulations. So far, their use is mostly limited to pilots within geo-fenced areas. Although the size of this opportunity will depend on a range of factors related to urban density and consumer acceptance of car sharing, the market for fully autonomous vehicles is likely to remain small over the next 5 to 10 years. Additionally, other factors that would allow for and support AVs are still in the gray area: the regulatory environment remains murky, liability guidelines are undetermined, social acceptance is still questionable, road and highway infrastructures for the U.S. and many other countries are not ready, to name a few.

Over the past 5 years, $50 billion has been invested to develop AV technology and by 2035, there are expected sales of 21 million units sold globally. For at least the next decade, most consumers are more likely to buy vehicles that use technology only to assist drivers—things like automated emergency braking or assistive parking—rather than fully autonomous cars. The deployment of assistive technologies such as radar and computer vision will depend on consumers’ willingness to pay for features based on these technologies, and most are not willing to pay much more than they do now. But costs will drop as volumes scale. Increasingly, automakers will be required to include advanced safety features if they want to keep their top safety ratings. Other features, such as advanced cruise control or lane-changing assistance, will rely on the same basic hardware and could be activated with software upgrades.

Advancements in battery charge times, range, and reliability of electric vehicles will accelerate the speed at which autonomous vehicles can be developed. We at Parker LORD are proud to help the industry move towards electrification and eventually autonomous driving with our leading-edge materials and sensing technologies.

Prasanna Srinivasan

Prasanna Srinivasan is Manager, Business Development & Marketing at LORD Corporation, with a focus on growing the company’s thermal management business.

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