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Many experts agree that driverless cars will play a key role in the future of transportation, largely for safety reasons: most car accidents are caused by human error. However, a new study published in Nature Climate Change suggests that self-driving cars will also provide environmental benefits.
Specifically, researchers Jeffery B. Greenblatt and Samveg Saxena envision a future where electric driverless taxis, in various sizes, roam the streets to pick up a matching number of passengers. The result, the study says, is a fleet of cheaper and more environmentally friendly taxi cabs.
Let’s take a look at Greenblatt and Saxena’s taxi fleet of the future — circa 2030.
Just The Right Size
Today, most cab fares are single riders — but most cabs are one-size-fits-all, full-size sedans capable of seating four-plus passengers, along with a decent amount of storage space. The average passenger uses only a fraction of that space.
The study suggests that cutting down on storage space and extra seats (both for other passengers and the driver) would produce a more energy-efficient cab:
For two-passenger trips, a 40% narrower vehicle was modeled, plus smaller reductions in vehicle mass, engine power, battery capacity and accessory loads that would accommodate only required passengers and cargo. For single-seat vehicles, frontal area was held constant, but additional reductions in mass, power and battery capacity were made. Simulation results for [battery-electric vehicles] indicate energy consumption relative to an average light-duty vehicle of 47% for one-passenger vehicles, and 56% for two-passenger vehicles.
A more efficient cab is cheaper to operate, and those savings can be passed on to passengers, who will only pay for the amount of seating and storage they need.
Powered By Electricity
The researchers decided that their fleet of cabs would be powered by electricity, as that is the most efficient type of engine for vehicles driven 40,000 to 70,000 miles a year, which is typical for a taxi.
While electric vehicles are more expensive to purchase upfront, they are significantly cheaper to operate over time. Self-driving cars are also a good fit for electric car technology, as they can recharge themselves when not in use – without wasting human time.
The study estimates that 800,000 driverless electric taxis in 2030 could cut the demand for gasoline by about 7 million barrels of oil per year. It would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.1–2.4 million metric tons of CO2 per year.
The emissions reduction over cars we drive today would be 87 to 94 percent, and 63 to 82 percent over future hybrids.
Last but certainly not least, the cabs envisioned by the study would be completely autonomous. While this could have an environmental impact by reducing the size of the vehicles, and allowing for more efficient driving, the main driving force here is economic.
Lots of people are at risk of losing jobs to robots, and cab drivers are no exception. The development of autonomous vehicles is a very real threat to people in the driving profession because it just makes good business sense for companies to make the switch. After all, why pay a human driver when the car itself can do the job just as well — or better?
“Shared self-driving car fleets will directly compete with urban taxi and public transport services, as currently organized,” said another study conducted by the OECD’s International Transport Forum. “Such fleets might effectively become a new form of low capacity, high quality public transport. This is likely to cause significant labor issues.”
Indeed, the transition will be neither smooth nor painless — but it is inevitable.
The Result: Cheaper, More Efficient Taxis
The message is clear: by reducing the size of the cabs, powering them with electricity, and eliminating the driver, we could produce a fleet of highly efficient, environmentally friendly, and cheap (both to operate and to use) taxi cabs.
What do you think of this study and the coming fleet of self-driving electric cabs? Share your thoughts in the comments below!