Plus electric vehicle problems & driverless cars

Why driverless cars have an emissions problem

(Credit: Alamy)

Driverless Cars

By Ashley Nunes8th October 2020

Emissions from motor vehicles are some of the biggest contributors to climate change around the world – but is the cold efficiency of self-driving cars a solution?

Without the heavy footedness and over-exuberant steering of human motorists, self-driving cars might seem to be the answer to all of our woes on the road.

Algorithms can’t get drunk, drowsy, or distracted, which are the leading causes of road fatalities and are largely responsible for killing 1.3 million people in traffic accidents every year. They are not prone to road rage, eating while driving, or fiddling with the entertainment system. And they can move faster, yet more safely, through traffic, which decreases congestion. (Read more about how self-driving cars can save lives.)

Computerised systems are also better than their human counterparts at choosing the most fuel-efficient route. They accelerate and brake more smoothly. These eco-friendly driving practices collectively save fuel, which ultimately reduces exhaust pipe emissions.

This all sounds great. After all, cars, trucks and buses currently account for nearly 30% of the US’s global warming pollution. Motor vehicles are also a major source of air pollution in cities around the world.

Driverless Cars

Computers may well be better at making choices that save fuel but there are other factors that can make self-driving vehicles less efficient (Credit: Alamy)

It is easy to see why some see the precision and predictability that comes from handing control of vehicles to algorithms as a solution to not only the safety issues, but environmental problems that road transport faces.

But realising this reality means overcoming numerous challenges. Here are three of them.

1 – Power

Perhaps counter-intuitively, a University of Michigan study in 2018 found the shift towards autonomy could raise (rather than reduce) a vehicle’s energy demands. The increased thirst for power comes – in part – from all the extra hardware self-driving cars need. To navigate their way around our messy, complex world, they bristle with advanced cameras, lasers and other sensors.

While this technology helps keep passengers safe, it also means added weight, which increases the amount of energy needed to move the car. Adding hardware to the car’s exterior (rather than moulding it into the frame) also means it cuts through the air less efficiently.

A related problem is computational capacity. Modern vehicles monitor everything from oil temperature to engine timing to braking action. This entails churning through gigabytes of data every hour. That figure is poised to rise dramatically in driverless cars.

The reason? All these extra sensors produce far greater volumes of data, which self-driving algorithms must comb through, combine and act upon. And they must do it quickly and correctly. That requires computing power, but how much is anyone’s guess. Manufacturers have said little about how much extra power driverless vehicles will need to perform all these computational tasks. Nor have they definitively shared how they plan to address that need.

While this technology helps keep passengers safe, it also means added weight, which increases the amount of energy needed to move the car

One solution is to outfit cars with bigger batteries. But that adds weight, which reduces efficiency. Switching from a gasoline-powered engine to one powered by electricity is another solution. The latter is far more efficient at converting energy stored to power at the wheels. But some of the raw minerals for electric cars come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country long dogged by allegations of child labour. Although minerals can be extracted from the sea, this poses political challenges as countries have long bickered over mining rights on the sea floor.

2 – Cost

Like many other new technologies, affordability might be one of the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of driverless cars. These vehicles may be good for the planet but winning over consumers won’t be easy if the price isn’t right. Research shows that when it comes to car sales, cost is king. That’s one big reason why electric vehicles – despite being environmentally friendlier – remain less popular than their gasoline powered counterparts.

There still isn’t really a clear picture of how much a fully driverless car will cost consumers, but one thing is certain: they won’t be cheap. Current estimates place the cost of driverless technology – excluding the car itself – at between $70,000 (£54,260) to $150,000 (£116,270). That’s already three to four times the average cost of a new car in the US.

Driverless Cars

Self-driving vehicles require substantial computing power to deal with the gigabytes of data generated as they drive along a road (Credit: Getty Images)

Admittedly, prices will drop. German engineering firm Robert Bosch recently announced plans to develop “affordable mass market” driverless technology. But how this will be achieved remains unclear. Driverless sensors alone currently cost upwards of $10,000 (£7,750). That figure must – according to auto industry experts – fall to as little as $200 (£155) for driverless technology to be commercially viable.

Consequently, driverless vehicles aren’t poised – anytime soon at least – to be individually owned. Instead, expect fleets of roving “robocabs” – automated taxis that ferry passengers around on demand. The robocab concept has another environmental benefit: namely reducing the number of cars needed to serve a population, which ultimately reduces emissions. It’s an idea that some companies are pouring billions into. Ride-hailing giant Uber for example, has spent more than $1 billion on developing driverless cabs and has tested the technology in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Similar tests have been conducted by Waymo, the Alphabet backed driverless technology startup that was born from Google’s experimental self-driving car project.

So, how much will hailing a robocab cost you? Some studies say mere cents per mile – well below the cost of owning a conventional car. At that price, large swaths of society will – the reasoning goes – abandon their cars altogether.

Without adopting “ride-pooling” vehicle use, and consequently emissions, could dramatically rise by 2050

Other studies are less optimistic, and suggest that hailing a robocab could cost at least twice as much as owning a conventional car. One thing is certain: if the price isn’t right, curbing emissions won’t be easy.

3 – Pooling

When it comes to driverless vehicles and the environment, the old adage – sharing is caring – is particularly true. It turns out that the most crucial part of paring down emissions entails not just opting for robocabs over personal cars, but also sharing rides. A University of California Davis study found that without adopting “ride-pooling” – the practice of cramming more passengers into a car – vehicle use, and consequently emissions, could dramatically rise by 2050.

So why not pool? For one thing, people are – owing to safety and privacy concerns – unenthusiastic about sharing cars with strangers. It also creates inconvenience by lengthening journeys.

Driverless Cars

Large companies such as Uber are hoping that passengers will be happy to ride-share with others in self-driving vehicles (Credit: Getty Images)

For these reasons, ride-pooling has struggled to gain traction. Just look at Uber – the company launched a pooling option (appropriately called UberPool) in 2014, which aims to win over price savvy customers. Those who opt in are offered low fares in exchange for shared rides. But the concept remains deeply unpopular among riders – so unpopular in fact that Uber resorted to reprogramming its app to “push” riders towards the pooling option.

Ride-pooling is, for all its benefits, a practice that consumers often (and understandably) avoid. The concept may lower emissions but that prospect is unlikely unless consumers can be convinced that its virtues outweigh its vices.

For those developing self-driving vehicles, the technological and economic barriers may be easier to overcome than those related to human behaviour. While computers might make humans redundant behind the wheel, how we choose to use them will ultimately determine what impact this technology has.

* Ashley Nunes is a research fellow at Harvard Law School. His work explores how innovation affects markets.

Car Theme T Shirts



More T Shirt Collections

Important Information

Click the T Shirt image for full details, prices, shipping & ordering

These T shirts are sourced from AliExpress, the Chinese version of Amazon.  Prices are super cheap with prices starting from $0.01 plus a shipping charge and others have free shipping and or free returns. Shipping can take up to 5 weeks, but the price compensates.

Most T Shirts have a range of colours and sizes with some also having multiple variations on the same theme.  Most state they are 100% cotton.

Be wary of the sizes, but if you scroll down you will find most have size charts and some will advise that they are Asian sizes and you should order a size or two larger, others state they are Western sizes.

Ordering online is easy, prices are super cheap, some designs are funny or stunning or both.

Add your email address to have posts delivered direct to your inbox

You may also like

Funny & Serious Bits Of Technology
Plus 30 funny technology memes & observations
Mobile Phone At Family Meal & A Tip
Plus 30 memes on the daily use of mobile phones
Pedestrian Crossing Safety Ideas
Plus 88 year old Grandma stopped at a red light
The Future Of Shopping Is Here Now
Plus 30 memes on the joys of food and shopping
Fancy French Restaurant Surprise
Plus 29 funny memes with a food related theme
Drone Technology Leads The Future
And the Army is right up there with e-Bushmaster
Boarding Pass Technology Good & Bad
Plus 27 funny memes on technology old and new
Mobile Phones - Problem & A Solution
Plus 29 funny memes with a mobile phone theme
Technology - A Trip Down Memory Lane
Plus 29 funny memes on our technology today
Jet Suits For Military & Paramedics
But for mobile technology, phones have top spot
Today's Technology Building Tesla
Plus some history of other technology advances
Cutting Edge Technology
Plus the old meaning of new words in technology Your Pleasure is Our ...
A Light Hearted Look At Technology
Plus 25 funny memes with a technology theme
A Mobile Phone Can Cause Problems
Plus Archaeologists trace history of mobile phone
Robot Technology
But technology has also changed the family unit
Page 1 of 2


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *