Will driverless cars be the future? It won’t be for the lack of trying. Google, Uber and several other big tech companies are taking a hard look at driverless cars.
This week, a Berkeley Lab study revealed the obvious benefits of driverless cars.
The greenhouse gas emissions of an electric, driverless vehicle used as a taxi in 2030 would be 63 to 82 percent lower than a projected 2030 hybrid vehicle driven by a person. The difference is even more stark, at 90 percent lower, when compared to a 2014 gasoline powered vehicle.
Some of the greenhouse gas emission savings are obvious. Self-driving cars would go the speed limit, not mash on the gas pedal and would be better drivers than most of us. These savings add up and the researchers didn’t even include them in their baseline results.
About half are attributed to what researchers call ‘right-sizing.’ The size of the driverless taxi is customized to each trip’s specific needs. Smaller cars would be deployed in urban centers while larger ones would specialize at airports.
“Most trips in the U.S. are taken singly, meaning one- or two-seat cars would satisfy most trips,” said Berkeley Lab scientist Jeffery Greenblatt. “That gives us a factor of two savings, since smaller vehicles means reduced energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Hey, I like being the only person in my SUV.
Here’s what the greenhouse emission savings look like on a chart.
CDV stands for conventionally driven car. Like the one you drove to work this morning. AT stands for autonomous taxis.
If five percent of 2030 vehicle sales were autonomous taxis, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by between 2.1 and 2.4 million metric tons of CO2 per year.
While there are obvious perks for driverless cars, there are also downsides. Mainly, the cost for the average person. On average, we travel about 12,000 miles per year. At this distance, privately owned cars are still cheaper than electric vehicles.
But, this study focused more on driverless taxis. And, the costs swing in favor of the driverless taxis when researchers looked at the average distance traveled by a taxi every year. If the driverless car logged between 40,000 and 70,000 miles per year, the average for a taxi, an electric car (or other alternative-fuel car) becomes the cheaper option.
The initial cost might be higher, but the fuel savings pay off in the long run.
What does this mean for you and me?
Driverless cars are not everyone’s future; they are a specific future. You won’t be trading in your pick-up truck or SUV anytime soon. At least, not for a driverless, electric car using today’s technology.
The cost benefit just isn’t there. Unless you log between 40,000 and 70,000 miles per year, which some of you probably do.
Now, autonomous taxis are a different story. The cost savings become immediately apparent. Plus, you can’t argue the good they would do for the environment.
Another big issue facing companies will be government regulations. Who is responsible for the wreck if a driverless car hits me. The car manufacturer? The company behind the computer system used to detect the cars’ surrounding area? Don’t even get me started on road infrastructure. I hope these driverless cars come with pothole detection software.
Driverless car technology is promising, but they still have a lot of hurdles to climb over before we see it used in everyday life.