Growing volumes of E-waste raise questions about how vehicles of the future will be disposed of.
For many experts, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are set to dominate the future of mobility. Already, we have seen vast amounts of funding injected into their development, with researchers and manufacturers increasingly making use of clean energy technologies to power them too. But will this focus on sustainability alongside autonomy yield purely positive results?
Day one of Shift Automotive in Berlin will see us discussing exactly this – how new mobility concepts reconcile society and ecology, and the most promising technologies set to create an efficient and sustainable future mobility ecosystem.
Optimism or Scepticism?
The adoption of AVs should drastically improve traffic flow in several ways, among them by powering a rise in the number of self-driving taxi fleets, thereby helping reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
Meanwhile, by optimising the breaking and accelerating process, they will also promote greater fuel efficiency, leading to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and an improvement in air quality, particularly in urban centres.
For AV advocates, such benefits are clear proof of the need for optimism when it comes to these vehicles’ green credentials. Yet are they the whole story? For many people the answer is ‘no’ due to concerns about the impact they could have on the amount of so-called E-waste being produced.
Next year, the amount of E-waste generated on a global level is projected to surpass 50 million tonnes while, around the world, landfill sites continue to swell. Given the rising prevalence of electric and hybrids vehicles, fears are growing that issues like the mass disposal of old batteries could be about to make things worse, especially as recycling capabilities are struggling to keep up with the pace of rapid AV innovation.
What’s more, as we see with Moore’s Law, when technologies develop, predecessors can quickly be rendered obsolete. As a case in point, new phone launches are now met with huge levels of excitement, with consumers happy to ditch their existing handset and queue for hours outside flagship stores to upgrade immediately.
With AVs similarly reliant on in-built software, constant streams of updates could see drivers adopting a similar throwaway mentality to their vehicles, once they can no longer support the latest version.
For consumers, mitigating this risk means balancing a desire for the latest designs and technologies with the need to limit their impact on the planet. While for business leaders, it means acting now to marry innovation with longevity when announcing new models and technological upgrades.
Of course, novelty will always carry an appeal. Carmakers will rightly incentivise new purchases with the addition of new technology. But once again, here, AVs could herald a major step change. After all, imagine the annoyance you feel when your smartphone no longer syncs to the latest version – and multiply that by the cost of a new car.
In a digital world where innovation is table stakes and early adoption is an indicator of style and sophistication, will cars that no longer meet consumer expectations therefore be cast away like an old phone? Could this further contribute to the risk of an E-waste epidemic? Or will we create ways to ensure our AVs remain on a sustainable road long after we finish driving them?
SHIFT Automotive is taking place from 10–11 September 2019 in Berlin, in conjunction with IFA, the world’s leading trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances. To book your ticket or enquire about being an exhibitor visit: bit.ly/2RoFrO6