There’s more technology in a car than there is in a roomful of computers

  • Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 31, 2015 17:35 IST

In the last few weeks I’ve been constantly discussing the collapse of the four sacred pillars of technology that drive the multibillion dollar technology industry: televisions, laptops, smartphones and tablets. These four have ruled the roost for so long, they’ve become omnipotent and have more money riding on them than any other quadrant product in any industry.

Obviously, deeming them a collapsed category seems foolhardy. And yet, the writing is on the wall, just not very clear to most people. Technology is cyclic, and there’s bound to be a life and death cycle. If some years ago, at the height of each product’s success, someone had predicted that electronic typewriters, fax machines, pagers and the CD player would die, he would have been ridiculed mercilessly.

The good news is that the top four aren’t really dying. It’s just that the evolution and innovation in these categories is starting to slow down. And that very innovation is getting stepped up in four new pillars. Intermittently, over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore these four new pillars and why they will rule the roost in the coming decade. Today, the first one: Cars!

A battery-powered ride
The clichés around car and tech are endless. The automobile is now the biggest gadget in the world. Unfortunately, the clichés don’t do justice to just how much technology is at play. There’s more tech in a car than a roomful of computers. There are more lines of code in a car than in an aircraft, more wire and data flowing than a computer server, and more sensors analysing conditions than any wearable tech ever built.

Yet, the real story lies in what’s ahead. Two areas will have a direct and dramatic impact on your life.

Think small
When you think of a battery-powered car, you usually think of giant-sized batteries taking up massive space somewhere under the hood. After all, the batteries have to drive a whole car, so they need to be enormous, right? Wrong!

The real innovation is all about very small batteries getting together to form a giant grid-powered machine, something like your normal AA battery used in a torch or TV remote. Now, think of thousands of them. That’s what powers a Tesla car and many others.

There are big advantages in going small. Battery failure means replacing one or two small batteries, efficiency is distributed across each cell, production is simplified and they take up far less space, so designers are not forced to build ugly cars to hide those big klunks. Tesla and Panasonic are building a huge factory that will produce billions of these so that every one will be able to afford a battery- powered car soon.

The other big innovation is eradicating battery anxiety. Think about a battery-powered car that has a range of 100 kilometres. When you leave your home and have to drive 40 kilometres, you feel fine. But on the way back you get stuck in a massive traffic jam and your battery gauge steadily trickles down to zero.

That’s incredible stress. Now think of battery pump-up station just like petrol pumps. You drive into one on the way, take out one battery module, insert it into the charging station, replace it with another module that is already fully charged and are on your way out faster than it would have taken you to fill petrol in your car. Now, that is real power!

Honey, I fired the driver!

Of late, driverless car technology has moved from secret R&D facilities and is out in the open. Mercedes, Audi, Google and half a dozen other companies are starting to let their driverless cars drive staggeringly long distances.

Let’s talk: With driverless cars, we can look forward to lounge-like seats that allow the occupants to face each other and interact.

This opens up many different real-life implications. Suddenly you can have lounge-like seats so that all occupants can face each other and interact as they travel.

What you do on your way to your destination also changes as you no longer have to concentrate on the road or pay attention to traffic rules and pedestrians. Entertainment, work, interactivity, communicating and many other things that were illegal for those behind the wheel will become legal and be encouraged.

The biggest impact will be on how you view your car. Today it’s one of your most wasted assets. You drive it to work, park it, and it stands there waiting for you. Then you drive it home and park it again all night. Multiply that huge waste of a resource by the millions of cars across the world.

Now think of alternate scenarios. You get your driverless car to drive you to work then send it off to do duty as a premium taxi so that it makes you money all day. Then it comes to get you when you’re done, you pocket the income it made for you. Then it drops you home and then takes off to do night duty, ferrying passengers to and from the airport.

The main reason we all don’t send off our current cars to do taxi duty is that we don’t trust a driver to treat the car as well in our absence or obey traffic rules – all of which are ruled out in a driverless car. Many may be amused by this thought, but new technology always opens up new lifestyle changes. Parking, roads, traffic jams, public transportation woes, breaking of road rules – almost all disappear with one dramatic technology shift.

There’s a lot happening with cars – from them becoming Internet-enabled, data-ready, with infotainment systems that would rival a home theatre and with smarts to park and change lanes and never get into an accident. And yet, it’s the above two that may well change lives and change this world.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, February 1

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