From Playskool to the future of electric cars in 36 years

In today’s Exponential Investor…

  • Looking good for a 36 year-old
  • A high-tech six year old
  • What real wireless look like

I made my son cry over the weekend. Not a great feeling. But he’s now almost one-and-a-half so we’re getting to that stage where he’ll “sook up” when I do something he doesn’t like.

By the way, all I did was take away his favourite toy because it was dinner time.

And his favourite toy has quite a story to it…

You see, I’ve always had a love for motorsports.

And I think I can trace it back to the Fisher Price Playskool racing car that I was given for my first birthday – in 1984. I don’t have loads of memories as a toddler, who does really. But I always remember that as a kid I used to love that thing.

You could barely prise the thing from my hands as a kid. But as you do, you eventually see those things go into storage. And for around, I don’t know, maybe 30 years, it was who knows where.

But I had a suspicion dad had it still. I had to find it. So when I was last in Australia, I made a point of going through shipping containers worth of storage at my dad’s place in country Victoria to find it.

By this stage dad was now on his seventh house, which means a lot of moving, a lot of boxes and a lot of stuff moving all over the state. I’d hoped he’d not flogged my car at a boot sale or worse… given it away.

In an old red metal chest, underneath an old silver, metal chest, under several boxes of books, in a bleedingly hot shipping container (it was about 38 degrees Celsius on the day I went looking, and about 45 in the shipping container), I found it!

And I tell you what, they don’t make toys like they used to. Sure it’s had a bit of wear ‘n’ tear, but c’mon, take a look at the condition this thing is still in!

Source: editor’s own photo

Now 36 years old, this “vintage” “Number 8” is my son’s favourite toy. And hopefully in another 36 years he might give it to his son. And with a bit of luck, “Number 8” might just crack 100 years one day… and then some.

Anyway, my love for motorsports I’m pretty sure evolved from good old “Number 8”.

I remember watching Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill winning the Australia Grand Prix on the streets of Adelaide in 1994 and 1995. And then the massive shift to Albert Park in 1996 when Damon Hill won and the David Coulthard in 1997.  

F1, Indy 500, Le Mans, V8 Supercars, WRC, NASCAR – I’ll take the lot thanks. And I can’t wait for the day I can take my son to Silverstone to the “Home of Formula 1” and pack up a campervan and drive over to Le Mans for the 24 Heures du Mans.

But motorsports is a changing industry and by the time my son is old enough for those trips, they might be wildly different than even what we’re used to today.

The future in 2014

Those brutes that Mansell and Hill used to race in the 80s and 90s are a thing of the past. Dinosaurs of an era long disappeared. Today a modern F1 car has the same displacement as a Ford Fiesta 1.6L EcoBoost.

I kid you not, both 1.6 litre capacity. Just that with the remarkable technology rammed into an F1 engine it produces about six-times the horsepower. That’s what you get from billions spent over the years in powertrain development.

But F1 as we know it in its high-tech clothing today may even soon be a thing of the past.

I recall in August 2014 not long after I’d moved to the UK that I got a media pass to attend the very first testing session of a new, upstart category of racing titled Formula E.

Source: editor’s own photo

The key thing about these futuristic cars (that looked a lot like my “Number 8”) was they were all electric. They had components and parts from manufacturers like Dallara, McLaren Applied Technologies, Williams Advanced Engineering and Qualcomm (to name a few).

In the early days of Formula E, in a race the drivers had to swap cars mid race because the battery wouldn’t last a full race. It was like the start of old Le Mans races, except mid race, and yes, equally as humourous.

Today, it’s a little different. And that’s because in just six short years the technology development has continued at break-neck pace.

Its “Gen 2” cars with batteries from McLaren Applied Technologies have twice the capacity of the “Gen 1” cars. So, no more need for battery swaps or pit stops. That’s going to change though it seems. And it’s possible the Gen 3 cars will adopt some form of pit stop to recharge the battery.

Now if you’ve ever seen a Formula 1 pit stop, they can change a whole set of tyres in under two seconds. That’s less time than it took you to read this sentence.

When F1 used to pit for fuel as well, pit stops would take anywhere from six to 12 seconds. That’s the kind of window Formula E should be aiming at. Remember these are races so you need to be fast, and that means in the pits too.

Which means they’re going to have to be developing not just fast charging, but hyper-fast charging for these cars. And it might come in a number of different ways, and one perhaps you expect the least.

Kiss range anxiety goodbye

I remember in 2014 that Qualcomm had been looking at dynamic wireless charging. That means wireless charging pads installed around the circuits, whereby a car could gain a charge by simply passing over the pad.

And the idea being that infrastructure installation would remain as legacy technology in the cities that Formula E visited. They race on street circuits. So if they were to install wireless charging pads on the circuit, when they packed up and left, those wireless charging pads would still be there in the streets of whichever city they were racing.

This idea of dynamic wireless charging for cars is an interesting concept for electric vehicles (EVs). BMW with Qualcomm used it for the Formula E BMW i8 pace car. While it waited during a race, it was charging via Qualcomm’s “Halo” charging pad.

Qualcomm sold off its Halo assets (while taking a minority stake) in a company called WiTricity a couple of years back. But the technology is still developing, evolving and finding its way out into the world.

Just under two weeks ago WiTricity signed a licencing agreement with Lumen Freedom, a wireless charging company based in Hallam, Victoria, Australia. Interestingly Lumen Freedom at its HQ in Hallam is about a 12-minute drive from where I grew up with my favourite “Number 8” race car.

Lumen Freedom expects to have wireless charging pads for cars out in the market this year. And it says it’s got “… multiple production programs with global automotive OEMs.”

This is the direction that the electric charging infrastructure is heading. In Nottingham there will also be a trial of these wireless charging pads for electric taxis. They’ll install the pads at the train station and allow a number of pilot vehicles to use them.

My take is that the ultimate end game here is wireless charging pads in shopping centre car parks, train stations, multi-storey carparks – just about everywhere you can park a car, you can put a wireless charging pad.

This kind of EV infrastructure and yes, you can kiss range anxiety goodbye.

It’s part of the bigger energy transition that’s taking place that you’re hearing so much about in the UK. And for good reason. There is an immense number of angles into this investment idea.

Whether it be fuel cell technology, EV makers, component suppliers, connected car technologies and hyper-connected 5G powered system, or even the companies pushing the boundaries of how we even think about charging.

There’s so much to this story from places you’ve likely never heard of (like Hallam) through to the biggest and most iconic names in British motorsports (Williams and McLaren).

For investors, there’s a multitude of investments to look at now that could stand to profit from all of these technologies. And there’s also a raft of private companies that while you might not be able to invest now, are ones to keep an eye on, should they go public in the near future.


Sam Volkering
Editor, Exponential Investor


Category: Technology

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