Before we delve into what’s ahead in the automotive industry for 2019, first let’s look at what is not going to happen this year. Autonomous vehicle technology – although it’s devouring a lot of venture capital money – is not going to be the next big thing in automotive, with a few caveats.
The AI technology being used in self-driving cars is still not robust enough for complete reliability. There are many examples of various autopilot systems being foiled by very innocuous, but random, events. This, among other things, is a major insurance liability and safety risk for individuals. As such, we’re still a few years out from truly reliable autonomous systems that people will trust.
In the U.S., there is a deeply held cultural love affair for cars and driving. The vast majority of people want to drive themselves, invest their personality in their driving ability, and won’t give it up without a fight. Self-driving cars may be a convenience for some people, but it’s going to be a tough battle gaining traction in a marketplace that currently can’t sell monster pickup trucks and muscle cars fast enough.
Self-driving cars make the most sense for fleet vehicles and delivery services where the emphasis is on maximum economy and efficiency. But most of those vehicles must have a human driver at the wheel as a back-up safety measure. How long will it make financial sense to pay for a union driver to sit at the wheel and not drive? If self-driving cars put experienced and well-paid professionals out of a job, there’s going to be a huge pushback.
What will start happening in 2019 and thereafter is the increased use of exotic materials like graphene in various automotive systems.
First to come will be the use of graphene as an additive to already existing automotive components. Graphene powder can now be mixed with paint to provide a degree of rust prevention and anti-oxidation that’s the envy of any current coating technology. This is a low-tech application for a very high-tech substance, and the reason for that is simply because graphene is still difficult to make in commercial quantities. Eventually, we will solve this problem and when we do, graphene will come into its own.
Graphene is the strongest material ever tested, but it’s also incredibly light. This is a perfect combination of properties for making frames, bumpers, brackets and other stressed components in a car’s structure. And, reducing weight is the single best way to instantly improve every aspect of a car’s performance.
More importantly, graphene is the best room-temperature conducting material currently known. With a thermal conductivity range of 3000-5000 W/mK at room temperature, it will have numerous applications including on-board engine monitoring, smart entertainment systems, mobile telephony, radar and GPS, cameras and security. Anything that’s electronic in a car now – or in the future – will operate faster and more efficiently with graphene.
The biggest impact of all is going to come in the form of graphene balls for batteries and for super capacitors. Adding graphene powder to lithium-ion cells radically increases power density and durability while decreasing charging times. Batteries will also be lighter and can withstand higher temperatures, thereby obviating the concern about exploding lithium-ion battery tech. The first applications for graphene are coming out now from Samsung in its next-gen smartphones, but eventually this material will scale up to other industries, including automotive.
This year graphene will start to see commercial success once industries are able to determine the incredible advantages of this material. We will also begin to see more and more money poured into R&D to make graphene a necessity in modern manufacturing. Graphene is set to be an industry game-changer and it will be exciting to watch how the commercialization of it unfolds.