A driverless car that could generate up to 60% of its energy needs from an integrated solar roof will soon take the next step towards production after securing $2 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
A stealth prototype version of the innovative “applied electric vehicle” (AEV for short) has been around for some time, having originally been reported by The Driven in late 2018. But the $7.65 million project is now ready to take the next major steps.
Those steps will include the creation of a pre-production lightweight prototype with a small battery that can be charged off a 240V powerpoint, and thus relatively quickly compared to the average all-electric car battery.
ARENA CEO Darren Miller says the Agency believes the Australian-designed and developed AEV has the potential to claim a leading position in a niche autonomous electric vehicle market.
“EVs are expected to play an important role in the coming decade in reducing the carbon footprint of transport. We hope to see AEV commercialise a homegrown driverless electric vehicle and be among the first to unlock the global driverless EV market,” Miller said on Tuesday.
“There is significant opportunity in the low speed vehicle market which is expected to gain considerable traction in cities, campuses and factories over the next decade that AEV could tap into.”
There are a number of passenger cars with integrated solar roofs being developed around the globe, such as the Fisker Ocean, which was unveiled at CES 2020 in Las Vegas in January and that maker Fisker Inc says could give owners up to 1,600km free driving a year.
Other more ambitious developments are hailing from Europe, such as the Sion Sono which recently attracted $A85 million worth of crowdfunding and could generate up to 34km a day of driving range from its 248 solar cells.
Another, the Dutch Lightyear One, promises to capitalise on extreme aerodynamics to get the most out of its integrated solar roof and bonnet and offer up to 800km of driving range.
For Melbourne-based startup Applied Electric Vehicles Pty Ltd, which has developed the AEV in partnership with Japanese company Teijin Limited, the focus is on developing a low-speed driverless vehicle that can largely power itself while being used for a wide range of applications.
Such applications could include agriculture, delivery, industry or waste management – anything the AEV base platform could feasibly be adapted to service.
The upshot of being able to generate a large percentage of its own energy is that there is also less demand on charging infrastructure, says AEV CEO and ex-General Motors director of advanced portfolio planning, Julian Broadbent.
“Our project with ARENA is focusing on passenger vehicles but the learnings will be applied to other vehicles, helping to reduce the charging infrastructure burden as EVs roll out globally,” Broadbent said in a statement.
“The Modular Vehicle System will offer companies access to transport that is cost effective, pedestrian friendly, gentle on the environment and very customisable to their business needs.
“With ARENA’s assistance, we’ll be able to take our design to the next stage of development in utilising renewables for our autonomous electric vehicle and provide something potentially game changing in the low speed EV market.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.