Will Self-Driving Vehicles Live Up to the Low-Emissions, High-Efficiency Hype?

Google self driving car

by | May 9, 2016

Google self driving carGoogle and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are teaming up to develop an autonomous minivan that will integrate Google’s self-driving technology into 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. This is the first time that Google has worked directly with an automaker to integrate its self-driving system — and it has major implications for smart-city initiatives such as reduced traffic congestion and air pollution.

It’s a win-win for both companies, as AutoBlog’s Greg Migliore reports. Google wins a legitimate automotive partner to advance its autonomous vehicle technology. And FCA, the smallest of Detroit’s carmakers with no earlier autonomous plans, could potentially jump to the position of an industry leader.

It’s also a win for the environment as an increasing number of automakers and tech giants jump on the driverless-car bandwagon.

Analysts say autonomous vehicles will likely produce efficiency and environmental benefits. In an earlier interview, Mark Bünger, Lux Research’s VP of research, told Environmental Leader that one major benefit would be fewer cars on the road, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, which accounted for about 24 percent of such releases worldwide in 2015.

Cars sit idle about 95 percent of the time, Bünger said. “If the vehicles were autonomous, they could perform other tasks, such as driving other people to other places, or delivering goods, when they were not in use by their owner.”

Autonomous vehicles and other new modes of transport could also save the transportation and logistics industry valuable time and trillions of dollars, according to a new report by Lux Research.

The report says that, in addition to being slow-changing, transportation and logistics is inefficient in time, energy, labor, and capital — as well as dirty and underutilized in terms of capacity. But as drones and self-driving cars are preparing to enter the mix, these new modes of transport, coupled with advanced analytics, will bring Internet-like speeds and efficiencies to the industry.

“Even seemingly trivial technologies like mapping applications for navigation can reduce mileage spent taking longer routes, or even getting lost,” Bünger told Environmental Leader. “When they also incorporate traffic data, they can steer drivers to routes with less congestion, meaning that fewer cars sit idle stuck in traffic.”

As one example of this: UPS will complete US implementation of its ORION (On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation) routing software by the end of this year. At that point UPS expects ORION to result in an annual savings of 10 million gallons of fuel, a reduction of 100,000 metric tons in CO2 emissions, and an estimated $300 to $400 million in savings and cost avoidance.

Lux Research says autonomous vehicle technology can even further reduce transportation emissions by reducing “deadhead” trips, or empty travel time, which it says can be a third of all travel. This includes grocery store delivery vehicles that leave the warehouse full and return empty, as well as waste and recycling trucks that leave empty and come back full.

This hurts major trucking firms as well. Lux says top trucking companies in the US have 10 percent deadhead miles.

“Full autonomy is anyone’s guess, because we have so little actual data to go on,” Bünger said. “But estimates show that we might easily be able to get by with one 10th as many vehicles as we do today, and still get the same transportation service out of the collective car park. That would obviously save countless hours time wasted in traffic and transit, but it would have a huge impact on fuel use, roadway construction and expansion, parking lots and other indirect impacts.”

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