During the 1980s computer revolution an acronym arose, WYSIWYG — "What You See Is What You Get." This referred to software producing printed documents that looked the same as they did on the computer screen, and today we take this for granted.
Oddly, a lot of modern technology conflicts with this generalization. It gives us a lot more than what we see. This difference is especially useful in understanding how electric cars and trucks may develop. But first, let's look at how getting "more than what we see" applies to cellphones, since we are all familiar with these.
There is no denying the amazing miniaturization progress permitting smartphones that can fit into a pocket. But when we carry these gadgets we are only pocketing a tiny part of what allows them to work. They are absolutely dependent on infrastructure.
They are dependent on networks of cell towers connected to each other through wires, fiber optics, or radio waves. We must be within few miles of a tower or our smartphones can't make or receive calls unless they can be made through nearby wifi. But wifi itself works through worldwide networks.
Some of us remember when there were major gaps in the United States where there were no cell towers, and even today there may be a few of these areas.
Were it not for cell towers or wifi networks, our cell phones would need enough power to transmit their signals for long distances and would require enormously bigger batteries to power them. They certainly would not fit into anybody's pocket.
Our smartphones clearly give us a lot more than we can see.
We also get vastly more than we see in automobiles powered by gasoline engines. By themselves, these cars would be useless without the large number of service stations where we can fuel them up,. And beyond these stations lies an even vaster network of refineries, pipelines, tankers and oil wells which we rarely see and just take for granted.
There is now serious research into supplying electricity to moving cars and trucks wirelessly from equipment embedded in highways.
The electric cars and trucks replacing gasoline powered vehicles are subject to the same limitations. One way or another, they will need to get electricity.
Today's electric cars and trucks run on rechargeable batteries which need recharging every several hundred miles. This is often done cheaply and conveniently by plugging them in while they sit in residential or corporate garages.
For longer trips, recharging stations are springing up. But so far, there are not enough of them, requiring drivers to plan carefully before making long trips. This scarcity is similar to the lack of adequate towers in the early years of cell phones (and of gas stations in the early automobile era) and everything else being equal will soon be a thing of the past.
Everything else might not be equal, since a different system for supplying electricity during long road trips could make a larger number of charging stations unnecessary. There is now serious research into supplying electricity to moving cars and trucks wirelessly from equipment embedded in highways.
These expensive highway installations would probably be placed only on major intercity highways and freeways, leaving vehicles dependent on batteries on back roads and city streets. But smaller batteries would suffice for this purpose, reducing the weight of the vehicles and improving their already great efficiency (compared with gasoline powered vehicles) even more.
No matter how cars and trucks receive their electricity in the future, we will be getting a lot more than we see when looking at these vehicles themselves. Like our cell phones, they will be absolutely dependent on infrastructure.
Of course the electricity itself for these phones, vehicles, and many other things, will be coming to us thanks to its own infrastructure, the continuing adequacy of which we take for granted at our own peril.
Paul F. deLespinasse