It’s all systems go for Australia’s all-electric driverless vehicle as the Applied Electric Vehicles (AEV), a startup focusing on the development of commercial EVs, has recently received funding of $2 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to expand its program further.
The electric vehicles currently under development by AEV are driverless and autonomous, with a roof that will have a solar panel installed to generate most of the energy required by the car.
The project, called the Energy Freedom Solar Electric Vehicle Pilot, aims to address future needs where 68% of the world population would be living in urban localities by the year 2050 as predicted by the United Nations. This projection prompts the development of innovative transportation methods for both people and goods, including vehicles suited for short trips and low speed.
Last year, AEV unveiled its driverless platform, called the Modular Vehicle System (MVS), for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas, USA. An early-stage prototype already exists; however, more work is required to refine the design and optimise how the vehicle consumes energy.
The recent funding round will be funnelled into the development of a pre-production prototype, which normally precedes the final design and testing stages of the vehicle manufacturing process.
AEV ensures the suitability of the vehicle for use by various stakeholders, including businesses that require a cheaper solution for moving items around the city, people looking for an inexpensive yet convenient mode of transportation, and governments that can use the vehicle for essential services such as waste management. Since the car has a modular platform, various car parts can be attached to customise the vehicle as per the user's requirements.
AEV expects the entire project to cost approximately $7.65 million. The company has partnered with Teijin Limited, a Japan-based manufacturer, to leverage on its unique expertise to help develop lightweight car parts for the vehicle and also benefit from its manufacturing methodology.
The grant made by ARENA will resolve the energy problems that currently exist in the vehicle's design, such as optimisation of energy consumption and selection of an appropriate solar PV (photovoltaic) for the car's roof. The funds will also be used to optimise the mass and solar gain of the vehicle and to ensure that it meets the necessary safety standards.
Per the company’s design, the car’s solar roof would be capable of generating as much as 60% of its total energy needs, under specific circumstances. Users of the car will also be able to charge its lithium-ion battery through a 240V wall socket.
The car has been designed to be used at low speeds and for short trips, the company says. Thanks to its modular layout, this EV is versatile and can be tailored to serve various purposes, such as industrial use, deliveries, waste management, agricultural, and, of course, as a people transporter.
The EV is expected to use systems like LIDAR that will enable it to scan and identify objects on its path that it needs to avoid. As it is an autonomous vehicle, such features are necessary to ensure that it is safe to operate on the road.
ARENA CEO Darren Miller has highlighted that this federal investment aims to support local companies in their efforts to develop innovative technologies that are likely to experience rapidly increasing demand in the future. He stated that the increase in demand for EVs would be driven by a shift towards greener modes of transportation to reduce our cumulative carbon footprint.
By investing in AEV’s operations, ARENA hopes the company would become one of the pioneers in the global all-electric driverless vehicle industry and make the vehicle available for commercial use in the near future.
According to Miller, there is tremendous potential in the market for low-speed cars especially in cities, factories and campuses, and AEV would hopefully be well-positioned to benefit from an exponential increase in demand over the next decade. He added that the technology developed for this project can be applied to future EV-manufacturing efforts, including solar-panelled roofs.
Looking at this innovation from where we’re now due to the coronavirus crisis, a driverless EV would in fact be relevant in our situation. It will reduce human-to-human contact and soften the impact of the virus to industries and businesses. According to the company’s CEO, Julian Broadbent, businesses can use the vehicle for various purposes as it offers them a cost-effective solution that is highly customisable to their needs and also environment-friendly.
Broadbent expressed appreciation for the investment made by ARENA, stating that the funding would be utilised to push the project into the next stage of development.
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Muhammad A. Lashari