May/June 2021 | Vol. 26 No. 3
by Bryan Mulligan, President, Applied Information
Mr. Mulligan is the Chair of the NEMA Transportation Management Systems and Associated Control Devices Section and a Member of the NEMA Board of Governors.
With self-driving electric vehicles offering supercharging capabilities and improved efficiency, the future of transportation is nearer than we think. Electric, connected, and autonomous driving is no longer a dream for the future but rather the new standard
for road safety, efficiency, and connectivity.
We recently tested the current semi-autonomous vehicle technology capabilities with the self- driving Tesla Model S equipped with Internet of Things (IoT) tracking equipment. In the 912-mile journey from North Atlanta to Daytona Beach and back, a Rattler
remote monitoring device gathered data to better understand what it means to drive electric, connected, and autonomous vehicles.
Advancements in trip planning, the growing abundance of supercharging stations, and range capabilities improvements have largely solved previous concerns around electric vehicles’ charging. Tesla’s new charging architecture, V3 Superchargers
with liquid-cooled cables, has allowed for charging rates of up to 250kW (620 Amps at 400 Volt) and 950 miles of range per hour of charging. In the test drive, a 40-minute supercharging pit stop boosted the car’s battery capacity by approximately
80 percent and increased the available driving range by more than 300 miles. These advances in electric vehicle charging have improved driver confidence in using electric vehicles for long-distance driving.
Modern vehicles’ connectivity charges provide drivers with several amenities, including advanced infotainment systems and navigational tools. More importantly, online connectivity, such as that in the Model S used in this test, delivers a situational
overview of available chargers at charging stations nearby, or superchargers during longer journeys. In the latest test, the Tesla Trip Planner feature showed the driver its Super-charging points along the defined route, required charging times to
complete the trip, and chargers’ availability at each location. Such innovations in connectivity give drivers a clear picture of when to stop for a charge, how long to charge, and if chargers are available all the way to the final destination
with sufficient battery charge and no concerns about running out of power.
Although full vehicle autonomy is still a work in progress, connected vehicle technology advancements continue to improve semi-autonomous vehicles’ self-driving capabilities and reduce the need for driver input.
The Tesla Model S was put to the test to determine the current state of autonomous driving and long- distance travel. This assessed autonomous driving capabilities when traveling along highways, which requires the ability to overtake other vehicles and
navigate challenges, such as on-ramps, off-ramps, and interchanges.
The Rattler device was installed to track the percentage time, and percentage distance traveled while in Tesla’s Autopilot mode. After recording 2,300 data points on the 912-mile trip, the average result showed 91.9 percent of the total driving
time, and 98.7 percent of the total distance were driven on Autopilot.
From these results, it is clear that autonomous long-distance driving has reached an impressive level of sophistication, whereas driving on city streets with signalized intersections and turns (the remaining five miles, or percentage of non-autonomous
driving time), still needs improvement. Infrastructure involvement and the creation of Standards and data interchange will play a key role in improving autonomous driving outside highway applications. However, our test drive experience suggests that
semi-autonomous vehicles’ current capabilities greatly reduce driving fatigue during long-distance journeys.
The technology we have readily available to us is very effective under the right conditions and is steadily improving. With more and more vehicle manufacturers releasing electric cars with advanced capabilities available at prices more comparable to gas
vehicles, there are fewer reasons to continue driving gas cars.
Connected, safer, more efficient vehicles are a reality. The future is now, and it is electric, connected, and autonomous. ei
Editor’s note: Caryn Vorster contributed to this column