Technological progress: slower than media let you believe

Part 2: Disruptive criteria’s

(Part 1? Check here)

There are some basic criteria to say that an advancement isn’t just technological, but something with real impact on society or individuals.

To be disruptive the new technology must:

1) Tackle multiple advancements at once

2) Be better in all aspects than its predecessor

3) Be practical or fun in the long run

4) Be affordable for average Joe and profitable for Henry

5) Be easy to use

6) Gain social acceptance

If these criteria aren’t met, there can be multiple hypes, but the expectations will not be met. There is no take-off.

The Electric car

For drivers of today it seems like gasoline and diesel were used in cars from the very start. Actually in the pioneering days of cars there were multiple experiments with all kind of driving trains. The electric car can be traced to around 1830s and it held the speed record all the way till around 1900. Eventually it lost against the combustion engine for the same reasons they haven’t had a breakthrough today: charging, range and infrastructure.

Nowadays there are so many combustion engines that gaining the natural resources to run them will be harder and harder (until we finally run out of it). More important is the fact that they are one of the main ways we spread emissions all around the globe. This has been long known of course, though electric cars as part of the solution haven’t broken through yet.

When we look at the criteria, this becomes clear. Firstly you not only need to develop electric motors, but there also needs to be advancements in battery technology and infrastructure. There were electric cars developed before (most notably the EV1 by General Motors). Those cars were nice experiments, but focused only on creating electric cars. They didn’t even look like normal cars, think of the Think City:

The City was produced between 2008 and 2012 had a top speed of 110 km per hour and a range of 160 km. The car didn’t meet any of the criteria as it for example wasn’t practical nor fun, it didn’t look nice and didn’t gain acceptance. In most of the aspects it was far behind any regular car. People don’t want to go for less and pay more (the price was around $38000,-). A recipe for failure.

It was thus very smart of Tesla that its first car, introduced in the same year as the City, was fun, looked nice, had a range around 400 km and accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in around 4 seconds. Though it didn’t meet all the criteria yet it already gained some acceptance. From there on Tesla made investments to lower the price (model 3), expand the infrastructure (supercharger network) and let it look like a normal car while still created some hype around its tech capabilities.

Tesla Model 3

We are now 10 years since the introduction of their first car and Tesla is still struggling to meet all criteria.

If Toyota or Volkswagen created an electric car ten years ago with a range of 600 miles (ca. 966 km), charging the car within a minute and sold for a price of $10000 than everyone would already drive an electric car today.

Well it wasn’t that easy and disruption is mostly a risky choice that big car companies don’t want to take.

So progress has been hard and slow, but the electric car have proved itself by now. In another 10 years it will be the main choice for most people. You’ll see that than you can tip all criteria’s on the list.

Autonomous driving

Autonomous driving has probably an even longer way to go than electric cars. Though progress have been made, it remains hard to get to a fully automated level of driving. Let’s start with price, autonomous driving still needs special kind of chips, radars, camera’s and other sensors. It will be hard to get almost perfect driving skills, combined with an affordable price. And it must be perfect. Though accidents that happen by human errors are widely accepted, this is (and will not be) the case for autonomous technology. It must drive better than every human, still must anticipate on other humans, bad weather and unexpected situations.

Waymo by Alphabet (Google) which is commonly accepted as the most advanced in this area is a good example. It still has a lot of trouble even though they mostly drive in Phoenix, Arizona where conditions are relatively easy. It’s a good example because it isn’t gaining social acceptance, because it drives by the rules. The car stops at a stop signs for 3 seconds (as is the law). This annoys passenger and the cars behind it.

The practical gains with fewer incidents, better comfort and more fuel efficient driving are significantly enough that the issues will be tackled in the long run, but it may take one or two hype cycles.

Part 3



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