Future of Mobility Podcast Interview: Innovation, Electrified Vehicles, Virtual Reality & More with Jack McCauley

I enjoyed talking with Brandon Bartneck of Future of Mobility. The following is an excerpt from my interview and to hear the full episode visit here.

Encouraging Innovation

Encouraging innovation in young children is incredibly important. Take me, for example. I never considered myself to be a “star” student. I spent my time doing other creative things like building models, working on eclectic trains, building, drawing, and making music. I even got a scholarship at 9 years old from Tinker Toys. If you find that you have a propensity for those things, or you have a child who does, it is important to foster that creative spirit. Academics will develop eventually, but creativity and innovation are equally as important. 

Biggest Opportunities for Improvements in Electric Vehicles

There is a ton of innovation happening in electric vehicles right now. Just about every automaker is coming out with a similar electric vehicle. I see the main opportunities for EVs being solid state batteries. Batteries wear out and diminish in their capacity to deliver electrons. There is now an emphasis on using solid lithium batteries rather than lead acid batteries. Solid state batteries do not have as many issues as the others and have more potential to have longer battery lives.

Energy management in electric vehicles is an area with significant room for improvement. Smaller EVs are less able to cool themselves down than larger vehicles. For example, the Chevy Volt versus an electric scooter. If we can figure out a way to keep the batteries at a cooler temperature, it would be a better way to manage the power content of the engine and batteries. 

Many places are making efforts to eventually have “EV-only” cities, as a way to become more environmentally friendly. Manufacturers need to have enough vehicles for that level of electric vehicle demand. In these “EV-only” cities, you will have the flexibility to drive further with smaller battery packs, which is more sustainable in the long run.

One of the biggest advantages of an electric vehicle is that it has an ability to generate power. There is a reversible chemical reaction that occurs in an EV and can actually generate energy through the braking force of the electric motors. With my own electric vehicle, it costs me $6 to charge my battery from dead and I can travel 250 miles, more than I could in a gas engine and for less money. That is the biggest advantage I am seeing.

Something I, and My Students, Have Learned While Building and Improving Their Own Electric And Hybrid Vehicles

While building electric vehicles with my students, we have come to learn several things. One challenge we tackled was figuring out how we could make the hybrid vehicles more efficient. Our hybrid model has a small gas engine, which we have only charged twice. That engine cannot power the entire vehicle, but it is enough that when you park it, the braking force tops the battery off. In hybrid vehicles, if you have a battery that takes the energy from braking and a battery from propulsion, when you stop, it tops off the propulsion battery from the braking. We tried to separate the two to control how much the battery is being used, so we can control the temperature. 

Our EV has no brakes, just all regenerative braking. If you have an electric vehicle that is at the top of a hill with fully charged batteries, and you want to go down hill, you can’t use the brakes because there is nowhere for the regenerative energy to go. If you had two motors, one in regen mode and the other in braking mode, the braking force would not regenerate power and would just have a braking force without using the battery.

Valuable Career Advice for my Students

If a student wants to make an impact, I would tell them three things. 

First, maintaining relationships and staying in touch with people is critical. It can be as simple as calling them up just to say hello. Throughout my career, I have stayed in touch with past coworkers even from my very first jobs, and it has paid off. 

The second thing is, it is great if people remember you, but you should also make a great effort to do the job well. Be honest and easy to work with, do your best to get along with people. Last, do something you love and that you won’t be miserable doing. Feeling a greater sense of purpose will make you happier in your career. 

Overall, I want to set my students up for success in their lives. Every semester, I hope they’ll walk out of the class and know how an electric vehicle works, their ins and outs, and why they are used.