When it comes to mainstream automakers, there are few as committed to electric cars as Japanese automaker Nissan. With more than five years of Nissan LEAF sales under its corporate belt as well as promises to bring a whole new slew of electrified vehicles to market with its alliance partners Renault in the next five years, Nissan is in it for the long haul.
For Nissan, developing electric vehicles is just part of a long-range strategy which includes autonomous vehicles, vehicle-to-grid technology and a total rethinking of how we live with and use our cars. To date, those visions have publicly taken flight courtesy of short teaser videos and impressive advanced-technology demonstrations at specially-held media events.
At the same time, Nissan Europe has been collaborating with noted architects Foster + Partners on a twelve-month long project examining the role electric cars and autonomous vehicles could play in the city of the near future. The goal? To answer the question “What is the fuel station of the future?”
This week at the Geneva Motor Show, that question is being emphatically answered in the form of a video short produced as part of that collaboration. But while you might think that electric car-friendly Nissan would call the fuel station of the future a series of rapid quick charging stations, you’d be wrong.
That’s because Nissan and Foster + Partners have turned the question completely on its head in order to answer it. Rather than be a place you go to to charge your car, the fuel station of the future is your car and the world it exists in.
We’ll explain by examining each of the individual technologies on their own and showing how they all integrate together.
As part of their joint project, both Nissan and Foster + Partners took current technological advancements and carried them on to their logical conclusion. Leveraging autonomous vehicle technology, ever-increasing battery capacities and wireless charging technology, the 12-month project paints a picture where seemingly disparate technologies not only transform the car but the cities in which we live too. And while we’re sure that a great deal of the video above shows a utopian future vision that will be hard to achieve overnight, it provides an intriguing insight into the future using technology that already exists today.
Wireless inductive charging is already starting to become popular with certain gadgets like mobile telephones and games controllers, and there’s already a range of different companies developing similar wireless inductive charging systems for electric cars. In fact, we’ll be testing just such a third-party solution in the coming months here at Transport Evolved.
So it’s no surprise that Nissan is developing its own wireless charging system for its next-generation of electric cars. While Nissan’s current wireless charging system is set to transfer a maximum of 7.2 kilowatts of power at any point, it’s concievable that electric cars of the near future will include more powerful on-board inductive charging systems capable of two or even three-times that power, allowing their battery pack to be refilled from empty in a few hours.
And when power transfer levels this high become possible, curbside parking bays with wireless inductive charging pads embedded into the tarmac start to make sense, especially if wireless inductive charging systems can be built to a common standard.
On its own, wireless charging is simply a way to save folks the few seconds it takes to plug an electric car in every time they need to charge. But pair it with autonomous driving technology, and wireless charging starts to make a whole lot more sense.
Which is where Nissan is going with its proposal that the car of the future will rely on autonomous driving and wireless charging in order to ensure it’s always ready for your next trip. While Nissan doesn’t delve into the nightmare of deciding who goes first and whose needs are more immediate than others, its video above proposes a future where autonomous cars on the same street interact with one another, taking it in turns to wireless charge their battery packs during the evening. When one particular car has enough charge, it simply moves away from the inductive-enabled parking space, and signals to the next car that it can move into position to charge its batteries.
In an ideal world, such a system would work beautifully. In the less-than perfect reality we find ourselves in, it might be a little harder to implement. But with Nissan already well on its way to bring a fully-autonomous car to market by 2020, such concepts may not be as far-fetched as they may have once seemed. Like inductive charging for all however, this would only work if every automaker agreed to use thes ame basic vehicle protocol and inductive charging standard. Sadly, if the competition between Tesla Supercharger, CCS and CHAdeMO is anything to go by, that’s easier said than done.
The next key technology highlights in Nissan’s vision of the future is vehicle-to-grid technology, something Nissan has already gained some experience with thanks to various projects around the world.
While those with only access to on-street charging may find themselves relying on inductive overnight charging, Nissan’s future vision also leverages the capabilities of cars parked in private garages or in off-street parking with conductive charge cables attached.
Charging up using cheap rate electricity at night produced either via wind power or some other renewable source of electricity, Nissan’s vision uses vehicle-to-grid technology to allow electric cars to share some of their stored power back to the electrical grid during the busy morning rush hour, reducing the grid strain during peak hours and making it easier for electricity companies to source all their electricity from clean, renewable sources.
Tie vehicle-to-grid smart car technology with off-grid and grid-connected energy storage systems made from recycled electric car battery packs, and that reliance on large power providers becomes even less, says Nissan.
And with the earliest Nissan LEAFs now more than five years old, Nissan is now starting to see a steady stream of used LEAF battery packs enter the recycling chain, either as the consequence of insurance write-offs or (less commonly) battery swap-outs as owners replace their car’s original battery pack for a new one.
By recycling those used battery packs into grid-tied storage systems — a practice Nissan is already testing across the world in several large-scale projects — used electric car battery packs can have a second life that maximizes their usefulness, helps provide battery backup for peak power demand and even provide emergency power in the event of a natural disaster.
Add in the capability to store power captured from roof-mounted solar panels, and Nissan hints that solar-powered electric cars will soon be the norm for everyone.
Today, it’s common to have parking garages connected to large office blocks, or perhaps to have a parking lot outside that employees and visitors can park in. But as Nissan cleverly points out in its video, electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions, meaning they could conceivably park inside the same office space that people work in.
Nissan’s vision shows an electric LEAF driving into a brand-new office block, where an automated parking system integrates with the car’s autonomous driving subroutines to carefully stow the car away after its owner has arrived at work. That storage, either in a tiered automotive lift setup or in a robot-controlled garage where parking spaces can be far narrower than they would be in a human-friendly one, also includes the capability for worker’s cars to automatically charge while parked, with each car becoming part of the office block’s intelligent energy storage system.
Like parking at home and using vehicle-to-grid technology, such a setup would allow the office to continue functioning in a power cut by using the cars of employees as backup power. Alternatively, it could use each car to help offset and peaks and troughs in demand, smoothing out the power consumption of the office throughout the day and eliminating the high charges that businesses have to pay if their total instantaneous energy useage goes too high.
If that seems like a far-fetch idea we’ll agree that it probably is. But we’d also like to remind readers that Nissan — and other automakers — have already experimented with using electric cars as a way to provide backup power to an office block during the work day.
And that robotic office-block parking system? That already exists too, although as a very expensive option for high-rise apartment dwellers. While such systems are currently obscenely expensive, the future could herald cheaper sky garage parking systems for both the home and the office, making it possible, as Nissan suggests, for current parking lots to become green spaces or recreational areas.
Flight of fancy, or achievable?
The vision of the future shared by Nissan and Foster + Partners might seem a little too Star Trek for today’s world. If you’re one of the many people thinking just that right now, we’d have to say that we’re right there next to you.
But here’s the thing. While the vision presented above is a careful piece of marketing that seeks to ensure Nissan stays at the forefront of electric vehicle technology as other competitors come to the market, the technology Nissan is promoting already exists in some form or other. Some of it already exists in a commercial product, other parts of it require a little more work in order to offer the kind of seamless integration the vision details.
Having ridden in Nissan’s autonomous LEAF for ourselves and having experienced other advanced vehicle technologies from other automakers, we have to admit that the future might be closer than we’d like to admit.
The only real barrier? Convincing governments, automakers, and technology companies to work together to make such a futuristic world a reality, because the real barrier isn’t the technology or even the cost — it’s getting everyone to collaborate.
And that might be harder than anyone imagines.
Do you agree? Is Nissan’s vision of the future an achievable goal for twenty years’ time? Or is it just a careful marketing gimmick?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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