Saturday, September 5, 2015

Electric highways

Visual from Highways England (in article)

Sustainability is a concern of most of my engineering students, and in each engineering field there are different innovations being developed. Since I teach groups whose specific focus is on sustainable transportation, I am particularly interested in new developments in this area.

A recent article on the fastcoexist website presents information about electric highways being developed in the United Kingdom that would charge the electric cars that drive on them.

The beginning of the article refers to the "charging problem that has been slowing electric car adoption for years" as a chicken-and-egg problem in this way:

"Some consumers don't want to buy an electric car without a full infrastructure for charging in place. But the business case for building that infrastructure is weak without more EV drivers on roads."

It would be interesting for students to brainstorm other types of "chicken-and-egg problems" in their area of technology and engineering. These problems often underlie the failure of a particular innovation to be fully developed or to be fully accepted by society.

The article has a sentence that explains how this technology would work, which would be useful for showing students how to explain something briefly:

"The system would use electric cables installed under roads to generate electromagnetic fields and send power to a gadget under a car."

The article is fairly short (463 words), and yet almost every sentence uses phrases indicating change (increase, expansion, etc.). Examples are:
  • Brits are getting into electric cars more and more.
  • Sales jumped up 366% in the first quarter of 2015.
  • But the business case for building that infrastructure is weak without more EV drivers on roads.
  •  The U.K. plans to add plug-in chargers ...
  • But now they're testing out something new to make driving an EV even easier.
  • If the tests go well, the new highways would add to the existing network of plug-in chargers, and make it even simpler to fuel up a Tesla ...
  • "This has the benefit of saving time and improving the distance that electric vehicles can travel"
  • ... could help to create a comprehensive ecosystem for electric vehicles.
  • In a feasibility study, the government found that people would be more likely to drive ...
  • ... especially if the charging networks spread off highways onto regular roads.
  • "An important part of managing the road network over the next thirty years will be preparing the infrastructure for a shift to new types of vehicles and technology."
  • "We need to plan intelligently for the future. Innovative technologies offer important opportunities to make the best use of road capacity and to improve the road user experience."
  • "We're at a very early stage of researching and developing a system that could potentially transfer power to vehicles."
  • After 18 months of testing, they'll decide whether to scale it up.

Students could identify this language, and then categorize them according to the type of language used (eg., comparatives, tenses, specific phrases, etc.). Then they could add to this by discussing other ways that this technology will cause changes.

The article mentions that this type of roadway "might even be combined with something like a Solar Roadway," and provides a link to an article on the same website about the Solar Roadway innovation. I will be writing about that topic, and comparing it to this one, in my next post.


  1. Nadezda StojkovicMarch 15, 2016 at 1:23 PM

    I used this post at one class. Recently, a student said - thank you for that class! When I saw that, I was so inspired! I have many ideas for some unusual, 'crazy' inventions. Now I see it is not impossible to realize them!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I'm glad that this post was useful for your lesson and for your student.