When I read the headline "Soon, electric vehicles could charge faster than your iPhone" last month, the electrical engineer in me was understandably pleased. But, it wasn't until after I read a handful of articles about it and put on my design thinking cap that it became apparent to me why this particular breakthrough has the potential to be such a big deal. While it may not be revolutionary, it is clear to me it marks as sizable a step forward ideologically as it does technologically and maybe even a little bit more.
Below are a few of my takeaways from the articles I read on EV battery charging advancements.
Innovations Like These Tend to Domino Throughout Industries
"In a report released this week, government researchers said they have found a way to charge electric car batteries up to 90 percent in just 10 minutes. The method is likely five years away from making its way into the market, scientists said but would mark a fundamental shift." -Washington Post
I immediately noted that new technology wasn't created--existing technology was improved. This type of approach allows for systematic, widespread improvement to occur not only within the EV industry but across the portable and stationary power storage industries as a whole--and probably a few more. The implications of circumventing heat limits are profound, from electric vehicles to solar panels. Now that batteries can charge faster, smaller ones may now be a smarter design choice. In turn, this opens up a whole new range of adaptations in applications and aesthetics.
This is Proof That Design Thinking and AI Make Good Bedfellows
"The scientists trained the machine learning analysis to predict lifetimes and the ways that different designs would eventually fail." Eurekaalert.org
Getting people to adopt renewable technology has proven hard, especially in the automotive space. Solutions like legislation and rebates are definitely moving the needle, but widespread adoption still lags. Working in product development, I was somewhat perplexed by the hesitancy--until I adopted it myself. As an EV owner, I can now more fully understand consumer fears and needs related to range anxiety and convenience. Design thinking --which prioritizes consumer needs to create better solutions-- figured this out long before I did. But the engineering hurdles still remained. In this case, the application of machine learning did more than just solve the troublesome issue of a slow charging battery. In my mind, it is evidence of an emerging conversation between the human-focused discipline of design thinking and the data-driven power of AI. It is a marriage of two disparate but complementary methodologies and one I am eager to see more of. In this case, machine learning was able to exponentially apply the iterative process hallmark to design thinking much faster than humans ever could, and I suspect it will be a good model for future problems.
We are Witnessing a Confluence in History (and that's pretty exciting)
Before hyper-fast battery charging looked to be a reality, the US was already on the brink of following the S-shaped adoption curve of new technology. It is hard not to see, but I was understandably hesitant to say we are at an actual tipping point. After reading the recent articles on faster EV battery charging, I'm pretty much there. Data from other countries that have entered the widespread adoption phase shows--when 5% of new car sales are EVs, the innovation shifts rapidly towards mainstream demand. The US hit 5.3% in Q4 o 2021. Admittedly, the US isn't like other countries, hence my caution. We drive more, have bigger cars, and have cultural stigmas around clean power. We need the proverbial pot sweetened. The ability to charge an EV battery 90 percent within ten minutes is about as sweet as it gets.
Final Thoughts on EV Battery Advancements
Zooming out, it is clear faster charging--on its most basic level--means more access to power in real-time and less need/space for storage. I can't think of any portable or stationary power storage application that won't benefit from that. My feeling is history will look back on the last and next few years as a time of converging events: sustainable innovations, AI ascendence, disruptions, and evolving climate thinking that came together at the right time to help humans avoid potentially disastrous climate change repercussions. I'm not only optimistic this is the case--I'm excited to witness it.
At Speck Design, we have been creating the future for 25 years, helping our clients build lasting connections with their customers through compelling and innovative product design. To hear more of our thoughts on industrial design and engineering advancements and to join in the conversation, follow us on LinkedIn. If you have an idea of your own, reach out to us, we are in the business of bringing products to life and dreams to market and would love to work with you.