Fuel efficiency is no longer just a way to save a few bucks. It's a national security issue. Our dependence on foreign oil and substandard infrastructure are untenable. Now there's a groundbreaking technology that paves the way to potentially solve both of these issues for good. Similar to our phones, tablets and laptops, our transportation could go wireless.
When gas prices rose to nearly $7 a gallon, we as a society broke through a barrier. The time for real change had come: we were finally ready for the electric car. General Motor's Volt and the Nissan Leaf blazed the trail to pure electric vehicles (EVs), but it was Tesla Motors which truly made EVs cool, practical, and yes, even sexy. With an attractive range of up to 200 miles per charge, Tesla elevated EVs from a futuristic fantasy to modern reality.
The public response has been tremendous, to the tune of an approximately $20 billion valuation for Tesla Motors. But for America to retake its place as a global leader in technology and infrastructure, we need to think bigger and do more.
The most pressing problem with EVs is range. Put simply, with the exception of Tesla, most of these cars can't travel very far without a recharge. Drain your battery, and you can find yourself stranded for hours -- turning day trips into overnighters.
But what if you never had to plug in your e-car? What if your EV could wirelessly recharge from an underground current built into the road? Imagine refueling your car while driving down Main Street or parked at the grocery store.
This isn't a sci-fi fantasy. The technology exists today and is already being put into place. Utah State University and WAVE Inc., a startup, recently applied wireless EV technology to mass transit, when they showcased a fully functional campus bus prototype.
The bus recharges wirelessly via induction pads installed in the road at stops along its route. These frequent fill-ups allow the batteries to be significantly smaller and lighter, making the EVs economically viable. WAVE is already working on a 10-bus fleet for Long Beach, California, and looks forward to expanding into as many as 20 new cities in the next year.
Ambitious, big-picture solutions like WAVE are the future. But our government, which until now has only stalled and idled, needs to be a crucial part of this change. We need to invest in, or contract with private companies to build new "smart roads" capable of charging our cars, and even managing traffic and sharing data across a literal information superhighway.
We can revolutionize our roads, spark the EV market, and launch America back into a leading position in global infrastructure, all while reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
Our country has fueled so many of the world's biggest advances, from electricity, to the automobile, to the Internet. As we struggle out of the economic malaise of the early 21st century, let's remember how America got this far: by thinking big.