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Driverless Cars: Robotic Chauffeurs Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 90 Percent

Would You Trust a Driverless Car? What If It Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 90 Percent?

Would you trust a robot to drive you around? Would you trust a robot taxi? What if these driverless cars meant reducing greenhouse gas emissions? This isn’t something out of a science fiction novel. In fact, the cars could be widely available in the next 15 years.

Driverless cars, or more specifically, robo-cabs, are so space age, not to mention a good bit unsettling because they’re the ultimate means of sacrificing control to a computer. But according to researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, driverless robo-cabs could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent when compared to privately owned gas-powered vehicles. What’s more, they could reduce emissions by 82 percent when compared to more efficient hybrid vehicles. The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Autonomous taxis make a promising early business case for connected and automated vehicles because they spread the purchase cost among many users and match appropriate vehicles to trip needs,” wrote Austin Brown of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Washington in an article that accompanied the study, reported in the Los Angeles Times.

The emission reductions on these driveless cars come from so-called “right-sizing” car trips, according to the article.

“Most trips in the U.S. are taken singly, meaning one- or two-seat cars would satisfy most trips,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “That gives us a factor of two savings, since smaller vehicles means reduced energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The driverless cars would be battery operated and far smaller than traditional gas-powered cars.

While many car manufacturers are working to bring the driverless cars to market, Google famously started the discussion a few years back. Their robo-fleet would pick up people on demand using an app.

In 2013, the company invested $258 million in a fleet that’s equipped with cameras, sensors, and radars. The cars cost a reported $150,000 each but Google thinks they can bring the price down in the coming years by making some of the software itself rather than outsourcing the work to auto manufacturers. Even still, there’s a good chance that the vehicles would be worth the price to companies like Uber in gas savings alone. The economic benefits are what bring huge companies like Google and Uber to the table, but the environmental benefits are real and worth the initial investment.

Additionally, if these driverless cars became more widely available, they might eliminate the need for individuals to own their own cars. For example, if the only place you drove was to work and to the grocery store and the rest of your life was in walking distance, it might be cheaper to spend your money on robo-cabs rather than having to invest in the maintenance and gas money of owning your own car. It’s appealing considering the amount of money older cars cost us in maintenance each and every month. And of course, there’s nothing quite as cool as being driven around by a robot.

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Image: Steve Jurvetson

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