Two decades ago, I met with some oil industry executives who M.I.T. with “Did you hear the news? There is a new invention that will revolutionize transportation! “The survey revealed that nothing was known about this invention except for the code name” Ginger “and the identity of the inventor Dean Kamen, a successful inventor and entrepreneur. I remember how I sighed and asked the manager how often he was in his Had heard career-like stories that had ultimately turned out to be trivial.
In my three decades with M.I.T. numerous advances and discoveries by engineering colleagues were described with great optimism, of which only a few have ever been realized. (My favorite was the engineering professor, who proudly informed his audience that the prospects for his research goal were highly valued by his students and staff.) This made me feel skeptical about a particular technology and at the same time optimistic about technological progress to be in general.
And the Segway (originally called “Ginger”) was actually more successful than many similar projects: tens of thousands of units were produced and sold and only recently stopped production after almost two decades. But originally the excitement about his prospects was widespread time Speculation about it in a story called “Best Inventions of 2001”. An author who received a six-figure advance for a book on the project said it would “revolutionize personal transportation, urban development, and our daily lives.” And a venture capitalist predicted that he “would quickly generate $ 1 billion in sales.”
There are any number of other noticeable errors. When Ballard Power announced that it was making progress in fuel cell design two decades ago, the stock price rose from single digits to over $ 100 (and back). But not only the investors were enthusiastic about their projects. A consortium of $ 1 billion in capital was established with major automotive companies. By 2004, up to 50,000 fuel cell vehicles will be sold annually. (Just over 2,000 fuel cell vehicles were sold in the U.S. in 2019.)
And one of my favorite stories was a 2007 CNN report that said, “Look out, Detroit. A new group of electric vehicle startups aims to curb the Big Three by applying the latest technologies and constructions of high technology. ”
The story showed seven startups like Aptera and Zap, none of which developed a commercial product.
However, this has another side. The same CNN story noted that they didn’t consider Tesla
Boosterism rather than skepticism dominates press coverage;
Many advances in the laboratory don’t work in the real world.
Cost is the dominant factor, but not the only one.
Entry barriers are important;
Consumers are the ultimate judge of technology desirability.
The Segway was a moderately useful but expensive product that worked very well (not perfectly) in the real world, but faced a significant barrier to entry as a pedestrian transport device, namely the fact that its size made it difficult to use on public sidewalks. In many places, this was one of the main factors for regulatory resistance at the local level. And unlike the flying cars in the film “Wall-E”, the Segway could not navigate stairs.
Many of the startups of electric vehicles failed for similar reasons: the cars were expensive and poorly performing, and the capital required for a sales and service system was above what the entrepreneurs could manage. Here too, Tesla has largely overcome these with annual sales in the six-figure range. This doesn’t mean that electric vehicles are ready to be more than a niche market, but it shows that technology is well advanced, so some are paying more than for a similar gasoline-powered vehicle.
There is a large gray area between those who promote non-commercial fuels and technologies (think of hydrogen) and the denialists who believe that more progress is “magical thinking”. In order to understand what makes a product viable, much more than just the internet has to be scanned for information.