2017 has seen a surge in the unveilings of electric vehicles (EVs), from electric-powered cars, trucks, boats, and even an air taxi. This innovation is primarily rooted in looking forward to the future of transportation, with some designers contemplating what the future of our cities will look like as autonomous vehicles become the norm. One study titled “Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030” predicts that fossil-fuel enterprises will go out of business as early as 2025, marking the end of an era for fossil fuel vehicles.
These are five electric-powered and autonomous vehicles that launched this year, setting a new benchmark for what the future of transport will look like.
1. Yara Birekland: The Autonomous EV Ship
In May of this year, Yara, a Norewegian chemicals group, announced the launch of its electric and autonomous ship Yara Birekland. In keeping with the Paris COP21 Agreement, the ship is committed to sustainability, using an electric battery to fuel its trips.
Yara Birekland is planned to replace the 100 diesel-fueled trucks that currently relay products between Brevik and Larvik in Norway on a daily basis. The electric-powered ship is supposed to reduce nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions given off by the diesel-fueled trucks and, subsequently, replace the 40,000 trucks that currently run the route between the two Norwegian cities. By removing such a significant number of vehicles from roads, the EV ship also promises improve road safety.
The CEO of Norwegian company Kongsberg believes that the Yara Birekland will move Norway and the world significantly closer to the environmental pledges made at COP21. Kongsberg plays a significant role in pushing Yara Birekland into operation since the company is working closely with Yara to deliver the technologies necessary to enable the autonomous vessel to take to open seas. The ship will set sail in the second half of 2018 as a manned vessel and then transition to autonomous operations in 2019.
2. Tesla’s “Semi”
With growing concerns about the role that vehicles and especially trucks play in climate change, road safety, and congestion, the automobile maker, energy storage company and solar panel manufacturer Tesla unveiled its electric-powered, self-driving semi-truck last month.
The electric-powered vehicle, dubbed “Semi,” promises drivers less emissions, more value to the mile and a more secure vehicle. The truck boasts enough juice to haul up to 80,000 pounds (~36,300 kilograms) and 500 miles (804 kilometers) per charge – both of which are impressive for an electric-powered vehicle. As opposed to the conventional cluttered dashboard, the truck has opted for two touch screens on the dashboard to regulate navigation, entertainment and significant information.
Although the Semi promises to be an innovative addition to EVs, the truck industry has not shown any interest in adopting Tesla’s new semi-truck as the hallmark vehicle of American over-land transport. Nonetheless, the Semi does bode well vis-a-vis its contribution – or lack thereof – to carbon and nitrogen emissions – not to mention its potential savings. Since semi-trucks contribute to about a third of NOx emissions and 20% of greenhouse gases, the Semi could be game-changer for the industry.
3. Vahana: The Flying Taxi
After bringing us some of the world’s most renowned aircrafts, Airbus’ Bay Area chapter, A3, rolled out its air taxi, the Vahana, in November of this year, following its 2016 announcement to release an autonomous air taxi.
Vahana was soaring overhead in Oregon earlier this year on flight tests in an effort to make the aircraft ready for public use within five years. The airborne autonomous EVs are expected to run on electric power and will be controlled via computers on the ground as it takes flight without a human operator on board. The aircraft is equipped with what is called VTOL, or “vertical takeoff and landing,” a technology that allows Vahana to take off without needing to lift up off a runway at high speeds. The aircraft’s eight propellers allow the wings to tilt forward during take-off and landing, which enable the aircraft’s VTOL capabilities.
The Vahana is similar to Dubai’s flying cars, which it tested in the summer of this year. The former, however, is currently only shuttling cargo – although there are plans for it to carry passengers soon.
4. TEAGUE’s “Hannah”
Coming soon to a neighborhood near you in the U.S. is TEAGUE’s autonomous school bus Hannah. Not really – Hannah is little more than a concept and design, although the autonomous EV has high ambitions to replace the staple yellow school bus with a safer, more convenient alternative. In reducing passenger capacity, tripling transport capabilities and doubling as a commercial delivery vehicle, Hannah hopes to make daily school transport more efficient and safer.
This month, TEAGUE revealed the school bus of the 21st century, Hannah, which promises to revolutionize the scholastic transportation system that has become a staple of generations of American children. Hannah tackles three main issues, according to TEAGUE: ensuring the safety of children onboard, reducing the number of children transported on the same bus and utilizing evening and nighttime shifts, during which buses are currently idle. To optimize efficiency, TEAGUE wants to use the Hannah as a delivery service vehicle akin to the Amazon Locker when it isn’t shuttling students to and from school, saving resources, energy, and money it takes to employ other vehicles to do the same job.
Since the bus is equipped with multiple cameras, TEAGUE claims there will be eyes on the students at all times, which can help prevent things like bullying. The company also believes that Hannah will reduce the number of buses needed to transport students nation-wide, which currently stands at 480,000 buses.
As exciting as the Hannah sounds, the self-driving school bus still has a long way to become a reality. Primarily, the safety of school kids aboard a bus with no on-board human presence is not likely to sit well with parents who are still wary of jumping aboard AVs themselves.
5. Deutsche Post’s EV
As one of the world’s leading automakers, it is no surprise that Germany is at the forefront of electric and autonomous vehicles technology today. Last year, the country announced that it would require all vehicles to be emission-free by 2030, and earlier this year, the country tested its first zero-emissions hydrogen-powered train Coradia iLint. Last weekend, the country’s parcel service, Deutsche Post, more commonly known worldwide as DHL, announced plans to assemble its own electric truck.
After the company failed to find a suitable shuttle, DHL decided to jump aboard the EV train and build its own. In 2014, DHL bought out a small startup called StreetScooter, and within a mere 18 months, it had designed and built its own electric-powered van, which began whizzing around cities almost immediately. StreetScooter has made an impressive 5,000 EVs which have driven a whopping 13.5 million kilometers (8.4 miles), saving approximately 16,000 tons in carbon emissions per year.
Besides selling EVs to DHL, StreetScooter also sells vans to third parties. It is hoping to open a second factory in Germany and plans to increase annual production from 10,000 vans per year up from 5,000. Coupling its expansion is a close partnership with Ford, which plans to help StreetScooter make 2,500 larger EVs based on Ford’s Transit Van.