The iCar, iTrain and iTechnology in general
There has been considerable discussion of late into whether Apple will seriously enter into the electric car business. It got me thinking about technology and why it changes. What are the drivers? What are the processes? Who initiates the transformation? So whilst preparing my split wood reserves for the forthcoming Tasmanian winter, I eventually figured that technology changes in two ways; by evolution or by revolution. By way of example, I’ll use the example of the Archimedes’ screw. Thanks Fox History channel.
In circa 100BC, water was moved from a river or well to an irrigation field (for example) by buckets, by rope and by camels. Evolutionary technology change results in more output by more buckets or by more camels. More efficient output by larger and stronger buckets with better profiles and less resistance. A better breed of camel. A better diet for the camel. All worthwhile changes but all gradual with not one change being of the Eureka moment standard (pun intended). They also share another very critical factor. They are all intransigent. They are all tied to the past. They all have a financial dis-incentive not to be too nouveau. The bucket maker relies on bucket sales; he loves to make more buckets, and he doesn’t mind making improved buckets. But seeing technology that doesn’t use buckets! The camel man is the same. More camels are great. Better camels are OK, but no camels, well that is unthinkable. But the Archimedes’ screw came to pass and this revolutionary technology change dramatically changed the water management practices of many. But the bucket makers and camel herders were not impressed.
Fast forward to 2015AD, and think of todays’ processes of technology change. Are they evolutionary or revolutionary? Are they linked to the past or driven to a future? I recall a conversation I had a couple of years ago in Europe over a few days with some of the world’s brightest technology minds about energy efficiency. We also had discussion on energy generation but that can wait for another time. The question we were discussing was how to improve energy efficiency, particularly in the developed world and say using Europe as the example. We looked at transport. Which was the most energy efficient? We saw a future where work was performed remotely from the “office” and that is another topic, so we concentrated on the urban transport issue. Was the future electric trains or electric cars? Now if you do the maths, electric trains win hands down. But is that the future? The leading technology companies recognized that people love cars and so the electric car had to be the best, publicly accepted option because people prefer cars. They do not enjoy the train commute, no matter how energy efficient it is. A problem pops up however. People are not overly impressed by the electric car as it is at the moment. Sure the acceleration is astounding (ask Tracy) but that is not a super selling point in the traffic bound future of our cities. They reckon that people like the sensory experience of driving, so they were working on making the sensory output of an electric car to match that of say a Mustang. The gurgle, the noise, the feel! I posed a question. Why work on the least energy efficient transport option and put all of your effort into improving the sensory experience of driving an electric car? Surely it would be better to look at the most efficient transport option, rail, and put effort into improving the experience so people prefer rail over car? Note the movement to an electric car with Mustang sensory experience is an evolutionary change, while the provision of an electric train with never heard of technological advances is a revolutionary change. What do you see? You see the intransigence of those industries holding onto their position; resisting significant change; holding back a future yet to be imagined. Bucket and camels! Just imagine commuting by electric train and studying a new language in your own private “pod” (real or imagined)? Or being actively engaged in an on-line conversation on a Webinair of your choice? In private? And energy efficient!
So back to the point of Apple and electric cars. Are Apple likely to be the electric car future? And why would they be better suited than a current fossil fuel reliant vehicle manufacturer? Who knows! But I’ll put forward an argument. Evolutionary change of the current fossil fuel reliant vehicle to electric (with sensory enhancement) can be seen quite clearly. It can be planned and costed, and is a process that is clear to all. What is also clear is the output. A car that looks like a current car but it is electric, and it feels like a current car. What would an Apple electric car be like? Well to answer that question you have to think about Apple’s strengths. What are they famous for? What would they bring to the table? My own personal view is that Apple excel in creating the user interface; they create the never before experience; they create something that others can only later emulate. They create a vision for the future and then provide it. An Apple car? Quite something to look forward to whatever it would be. But Apple also has the following revolutionary opportunities if they proceeded with an electric car.
- An opportunity to revolutionize the manufacturing process. Just imagine a production line full of 3D printers.
- An opportunity to revolutionize the supply process. Just imagine a Just In Time matrix managed from your iPhone.
But you cannot do all of this without guaranteed long term supply of the Technology Metals. We have all talked for years about the strategic advantage of guaranteed long term supply of Technology Metals. Well, whether or not it is Apple, Tesla or an as yet to be disclosed other party, hopefully, whoever it is, they also see the need to revolutionize the raw materials supply development process so that the world can have the supply of the Technology Metals that it is becoming so desperate for. For without Technology Metals supply there can be no Technology future.
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Mr Mackowski is a qualified engineer in mineral processing with over 30 years technical and operational experience in rare earths, uranium, industrial minerals, nickel, kaolin ... <Read more about Steve Mackowski>