The challenges we face thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic show no sign of letting up. While it seemed, for a while at least, that here in Australia we had a handle on this wretched virus, the outbreak in Melbourne has shown just how insidious it is and how we must all be on our toes and following, to the letter, all the guidance the health authorities and governments advise us to follow.
It is frustrating, no doubt, but for the health of others in our community, which is surely the most important thing, as well as for the long-term health of the economy, there is little we can do but keep the virus at bay and continue our lives as best we can. It is something we are going to have to live with for some time.
It may, in fact, change the way we live and interact with each other, and that new normal will revolve around ways in which we can best remove ourselves from the possibilities of infection.
In Melbourne, wearing a mask is now mandatory when outside of home, and it would come as little surprise for such a requirement to soon be the norm across the country. While that may seem extreme to some, it is a cultural shift that probably should not be seen as such – for years, wearing a mask has been a feature of life across many Asian nations plagued by air pollution concerns.
Where does the automotive industry fit into all this? Well, the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has focused the minds of both consumers and carmakers.
According to a U.S. Cox Automotive survey carried out in May, 36 per cent of new vehicle shoppers are more likely to consider air quality features when shopping for a vehicle. That is not altogether surprising, and the smart minds at carmakers across the world are now racing to offer those consumers the technology that will make a vehicle’s cabin a healthier, safer place. There is some innovative work going on in this space.
For example, Jaguar Land Rover has revealed it has developed contactless touchscreen technology that uses artificial intelligence to determine what feature the user intends to select before the display is touched. A gesture tracker, using various sensors together with information based on the user profile, determines what the user’s intent is likely to be and selects the appropriate feature.
The company claims that lab tests and trials show this predictive technology could reduce a driver’s interaction with the touchscreen by up to 50 per cent. As we all now know, the less physical interaction with any surface, the better.
Over at Hyundai, there is work going on into the development of Ultraviolet (UV) light technology. UV systems are, reportedly, well-proven and already used in a variety of facilities – from hospitals where they are used to assist in disinfecting patient rooms and operating theatres, to laboratories and even foodpacking factories. Hyundai says that it is planning to develop an interior cabin light has just such a sterilisation capability.
And then there is China-based manufacturer Geely.
The company established a ‘Healthy Car Program’ in response to the onset of the Coronavirus and says it is to invest heavily to ‘develop healthy vehicles that focus on clean in-vehicle air technologies to filter out any harmful bacteria as well as developing new self-cleaning materials for use in heavily used touch points such as grab handles, buttons and door handles’.
Such efforts from Geely have already resulted in a new air purification system on its newest production model, the ICON SUV.
At the launch of the vehicle in February the company said, “In response to the new Coronavirus epidemic, Geely Auto developed, in record time, a new Intelligent Air Purification System (IAPS) that is N95 certified. This highly efficient air purification system works in tandem with the ICON’s air conditioner to isolate and eliminate harmful elements in the cabin air including bacteria and viruses.’
Finally, it is worth noting that Tesla has been a leader in this field.
One of the most innovative of automakers, Tesla has for some time had a top-class air filtration system available in some of its models. Using a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter, the company offers a feature called ‘Bioweapon Defense Mode’, which sounds truly impressive and which the company claims is hundreds of times more efficient than standard automotive filters. It can, the company says, capture ‘fine particulate matter and gaseous pollutants, as well as bacteria, viruses, pollen and mold spores’.
The system reportedly proved most effective during the extreme California wildfires of 2018, during which owners of Tesla vehicles fitted with it reported that it was very capable in maintaining the air quality within the cabin.
There is, no doubt, much more of this type of technology is being investigated and developed by manufacturers, and anything that works to keep a cabin a safer and healthier environment can only be a good thing.
Exciting news in the world of electric vehicles (EV) is the continuing development and research into Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology.
The idea behind V2G tech is that EVs can be plugged into, and return power to, the nation’s power grid. It is a straightforward concept and one that is gaining plenty of traction. Across the world, companies and governments are getting stuck into the research and Australia has joined the party with a trial to take place in Canberra. Nissan, which has been involved in this V2G technology research for some time, will see 51 of its LEAF EVs used in the trial.
The potential for this technology is pretty incredible – from providing extra energy security to the grid to allowing a potential new revenue stream for EV owners – and there appears to be no obvious drawback.
To think that it was just a handful of years ago that even the idea of electric vehicles was viewed as pie-in-the-sky dreaming, and we can see that the developments here have been fantastic. The ideas and technologies flowing from what is, at its core, the very simple concept of a car powered by batteries, appears to be limitless.