Whizzing around town in an electric car: the changing face of our mobility

How will we travel in the future? Will we all drive around town in electric cars? In this edition of our series ‘The World of Tomorrow’, we take a look at what scientists and traffic planners are working on in the area of transportation.

Most futurologists agree that the electric car will become a reality. The electric engine has two major advantages over the combustion engine: It makes us less reliant on petroleum for our mobility and, at least in its operation, it does not produce any harmful emissions.

However, electric cars are not yet fully developed. The batteries take a long time to charge and only have a limited range. Nonetheless, they do already have sufficient capacity for traffic in and around town. Towns and cities could soon become smog-free thanks to electric cars. No wonder that planners are looking to the electric car.

The German Federal Government has set up a programme that aims to have one million electric cars on Germany's roads by 2020 and even six million by 2030. This is an ambitious goal given that there were only 4,500 electric cars in May 2012 and that there are very few programmes funding their development. Plans in the Dutch capital Amsterdam are more specific. Here the aim is to have 10,000 electric cars on the road in three years' time. The city is offering numerous financial incentives to this end. Anyone buying an electric car will receive a grant and will be allowed to use downtown parking spaces and the 200 or so charging stations for free.

Electric cars in tomorrow's world

Making these charging stations invisible is one of the aims of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, an organisation whose scientists are researching bi-directional, inductive charging systems that can be installed within the road structure. They hope to integrate electric car batteries into the wider electricity grid as a buffer. Electricity would be stored temporarily in the car batteries at times of peak generation and flow back into the grid when demand is high. To make this possible, the cars require an on-board unit (OBU) capable of transmitting information about the charging status of the battery, its capacity and the location of the car.

The electric car goes smart

If the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) has its way, the OBU will become an integral component of future vehicles. The computers in the electric cars will communicate with each other and alert one another to hazards. Cars travelling in the same direction will be able to temporarily join together to form 'road trains'. The OBU will take the wheel, while the drivers travel as passengers. Less drag and better traffic flow will enable energy savings to be made and minimize the risk of accidents.

Reducing traffic through car sharing

The Fraunhofer Gesellschaft also intends to use the OBU to improve car sharing. Shared vehicle use will be very important in the future. On their smartphones, users will be able to see where the next available car is and whether it is possible to share the journey with other users.

Getting back to Amsterdam, where plans already extend beyond the electric car, traffic planners aim to significantly reduce the volume of car traffic in this major city. Parking spaces, already scarce, will be gradually converted into bicycle lanes and green spaces, and a general speed limit of 30 km/h in the city will make driving slower.

This will also help to increase the appeal of the bicycle once again, a form of transport that has been hounded out of many cities by the car.

Your opinion on electric cars and other innovations

In the comments below we would like to read your view on how mobility around the world is changing and how we can contribute to sustainable change.


Author: Sabine Müller

December 2012


Enrique Alapont Asins
19 January 2013

Hallo Freunde/innen,
meiner Meinung nach, elektronische Autos sind nicht die Zukunt, sondern die Gegenwart, obwohl ich möchte dass immer mehr Leute fahren mit dem Fahrrad denn es das perfekte Verkehrsmittel in alltäglichen Leben ist

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