Johannesburg - As the world prepares to wean itself off fossil fuels, motor manufacturers are getting ready to unleash electric cars onto the roads in significant numbers, but to make these vehicles truly practical there's still the problem of getting them quickly charged.

While next-generation battery-powered cars will reportedly have the ability to quick-charge in as little as half an hour, it’s still a lot slower than the two or three minutes it takes to fill up a petrol or diesel car. Not exactly practical if you’re running late for a meeting or to pick up the kids from school.

Which is why the Swedes have turned to a child’s toy - slot cars - as a possible solution. Slot cars, in case you missed out, involved toy cars that raced around a small track in electrically powered grooves, with Scalextric being the most well-known brand.

Now the Swedish Transporation Agency is testing the concept in a real-life situation on a 2km stretch of road near Stockholm which has Scalextric-type electric rails embedded in the road. It allows electric vehicles to recharge while driving, with the car fitted with a contact arm to connect to the electric power source.

Out-of-the-box thinking

The grooves have drainage to deal with rain and water, and the contact arms sweep away water and debris so they don’t interfere with the energy current. The project represents interesting out-of-the-box thinking by not focusing solely on larger batteries and more powerful chargers, but extending the distance an electric car can travel with today’s technology.

Apart from doing away with that frustrating 30 minute wait before continuing your journey, Scalextric roads would mean electric vehicle batteries could be a lot smaller and lighter - and therefore cheaper - because they won’t need to retain as much charge. At present they’re prohibitively expensive, one example being the R339 616 cost of the electric battery pack in the electric BMW i3 which is more than half of the vehicle’s R637 300 pricetag.

Game changer

On the subject of future vehicle technology, the upcoming introduction of the superfast 5G wireless network in the next couple of years will be a game changer for road safety and the advancement of self-driving cars.

Apart from incredible speeds - up to 100 times faster than traditional LTE and as much as 500 times faster than 3G - going from 4G to 5G will yield super-low latency. This means a much shorter delay, which will revolutionise vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-environment communication, collectively dubbed V2X.

Using a wireless network, the sophisticated V2X technology establishes networked links among vehicles and between vehicles and the traffic infrastructure. The vehicle thus “sees” hazards before they are perceived by the driver, and warns the driver and other road users in good time.

X-ray vision

For example, V2X can alert drivers that an emergency vehicle is heading their way, provide information about upcoming traffic lights (advising the driver of the optimum speed required to achieve a green light), or warn about obstacles on the road before they are spotted by the driver. An example is if you’re waiting to turn right at an intersection and your view is blocked, V2X will show you whether there’s oncoming traffic and if it’s safe to make the turn. It will be kind of like having X-ray vision.

A fast V2X network is also a key factor in one day realising fully-autonomous cars, enabling them to safely navigate the complexity of ever-changing traffic conditions.

It’s predicted there may be nearly 200 million connected cars on the world’s road by 2022, perhaps half of them equipped with V2X communications.

It will be a much safer world once every road user, including cyclists and pedestrians, are able to connect to the V2X network.


Follow Denis Droppa on Twitter @DenisDroppa