The focus by Politicians and Industry on vehicles that can be powered by electricity and eventually be self driven has sadly led to all sorts of ignorance being demonstrated in a manner that is bound to create disappointment and cynicism. At the last Budget Philip Hammond set aside some relatively modest sums of money in the context of the work needed and claimed that by 2021 there would be driverless cars on our roads. There is a bit more information available in this article. The same day as the budget I happened to attend a talk given on the same theme by a senior member of a business based in Sussex that designs cars. The talk was organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the person giving the talk made it abundantly clear from what he had to say that Philip Hammond was talking through his backside. The reality is that driverless cars in conceptual terms already exist. However place them in an existing road and the problems that emerge will be huge. Inevitably a great deal of the technology that will assist in the development of such cars is already in use in cars today so the moment when the first car capable of driving independently emerges will be hard to determine, however cars without drivers, or even that drive automatically without the driver needing to participate are decades away, not years. Mr Hammond also suggested that the cars would be fuelled by electric power and in the light of todays announcement about CO2 emissions this is also a key part of the future. Again, there are cars around which work from electricity but to transform the whole of society including lorries and even planes etc into electrically powered solutions will take many decades. Some of the building blocks exist, but to take the example of a few hybrid cars and even one or two cars that are exclusively powered from their batteries and apply this to the whole of society will demand major developments in both battery technology and electrical infrastructure across our nation. The challenge of ensuring every home has the capacity to charge a car in a short period of time, will demand an immense level of investment and the time it takes to develop batteries is again something that takes over a decade. The current battery solutions will never solve the whole nations problems.
The challenge as conceded at the talk referred to above is that Politicians have a tendency to go off on a tangent without seeking information from their advisers. However the rest of us lack advisers, even if we are willing to listen. However yesterday morning I heard a fantastic talk on Radio 4 as part of the Life Scientific series. The person being interviewed was Clare Grey (pictured above). She is an expert on battery technology and although the interview was about her personally, it covered many elements of Batteries. It was particularly pleasing to hear a female scientist being interviewed on such a subject. Sadly I very much doubt that Philip Hammond will have been listening. However the talk is available here so perhaps someone on his team can download it and let him listen to it!