After Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced his company would roll out a new electric semi-trailer truck in October, the public quickly took note, with Tesla’s stock immediately jumping 3 percent on the heels of this major news.
Indeed, Tesla’s move into the electric truck space will benefit from new technology, which includes a proposal to build lifts in remote locations that would make it easier — we’re talking a span of less than 15 minutes — for Tesla vehicle owners to swap out battery packs with a new one. However, it’s unclear whether the patent, which was filed in May, will ever become reality.
Still, these innovations complement Tesla’s ongoing efforts to keep more electric vehicles on the road without owners having to spend inordinate amounts of time at supercharging stations. Moreover, it is Musk’s hope to play a key role in limiting the growth of the fossil fuel industry in favor of creating more sustainable, energy-efficient transportation alternatives.
While Tesla is one of the most visible tech companies pursuing eco-friendly solutions, other industry giants have also been supporting the transition to create more sustainable infrastructure. Here’s a look at three other companies looking to make a sizable, eco-friendly impact.
Tesla currently dominates the U.S. electric car market, but Apple is also hoping to take a slice of the pie. For the past several years, the Silicon Valley giant has been developing technology to create autonomous electric vehicles. Now, a team of Apple engineers have been discussing ways to literally reinvent the wheel by using spherical wheels for better lateral movement.
However, more recently, the emphasis has shifted from hardware innovations to developing artificial intelligence capable of steering driverless cars. Toward this end, Apple is developing a new operating system known as carOS. This technology is currently being tested through Apple’s PAIL program — short for Palo Alto to Infinite Loop — to transport employees between company facilities in Palo Alto and Infinite Loop in nearby Cupertino.
To support its move into the electric car space, Apple has been investing in ongoing R&D efforts to improve batteries for both electric cars and smartphones. Some of these improvements are already being reflected in devices like the iPhone 7, which features a longer battery life than any previously released model. Additionally, Apple is quietly working with Chinese battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited on developing an automotive battery.
In addition to its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Apple has committed to instituting a “closed-loop” supply chain that would make it easier to manufacture iPhones and other devices entirely from recycled materials. As a first step in this direction, Apple is encouraging more of its customers to return their iPhones to their carrier when upgrading to a new device.
Google is another tech giant looking to enter the electric vehicle market in a big way. Since 2009, Google has been working on developing autonomous vehicle technology for use in electric vehicles. Last year, its parent company, Alphabet, created a new spin-off company called Waymo to take over this project.
Waymo has since partnered with Lyft to develop autonomous vehicle technology — and Morgan Stanley is already predicting a big future for Waymo. In fact, analysts are projecting Waymo’s share of the autonomous electric car market to be worth $70 billion — more than Uber, Tesla, General Motors or Ford.
Waymo’s technology is complemented by Google Street View, another vehicle-related technology that Google uses to protect the environment. Google Street View vehicles feature cameras and other devices that can collect data on pollution as they travel. The data is then fed to Google Maps, where it can be used to analyze pollution patterns as well as be shared with government agencies and other key stakeholders.
In the meantime, Google is attempting to lower its own carbon footprint by relying on sustainable energy sources to power its operations. It’s no secret data centers rely on an enormous amount of energy to power and cool servers. But to make this vital equipment more sustainable, Google is converting a former Alabama coal plant into its 14th global data center.
The former coal plant, with its extensive network of transmission and distribution lines, will eventually become an importer of clean energy from outside the state. While Google currently gets 44 percent of its power from wind and solar farms, its 14 data centers serving 60,000 employees are expected to be powered entirely by renewable energy by year’s end.
Microsoft is yet another major tech company that has taken steps to make its data centers more sustainable. As one of its utility provider’s largest clients, Microsoft has leverage to negotiate with other utility companies to obtain more power directly from renewable sources.
For instance, Microsoft recently negotiated with a Nevada utility provider to create new renewable capacity and persuaded a Virginia company to build a new solar farm. Microsoft has joined forces with other tech companies like Google and Facebook to exert this type of power over utility providers. This, in turn, allows Microsoft to offer its cloud services to consumers as an energy-efficient, carbon-neutral alternative to traditional IT data centers.
Microsoft has also invested its profits into R&D efforts related to green technology. One of the company’s current projects includes a joint $50 million investment with Facebook to develop renewable energy microgrids in underserved communities around the world. With help from investment firm Allotrope Partners and the U.N., the project will mobilize the multimillion-dollar joint venture between 2018 and 2020 to expand energy access in parts of India, Indonesia and East Africa.
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