Robotic, self-driven, electricity-powered taxis could significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from light-duty vehicles in the United States within the next 20 years, according to a new paper published in Nature Climate Change. The study estimates that these robocabs could reduce individual vehicle emissions by up to 94% per mile when compared with current conventionally driven and powered vehicles.
Established automobile manufacturers and technology companies are increasingly looking at ways to make vehicles more autonomous and Google has announced plans to release a fully self-driven vehicle by 2017. Fleets of these vehicles could, in theory, reduce emissions in the transport sector by making more journeys, planning the most efficient routes, and integrating into fully electric power systems.
Jeffery Greenblatt and Samveg Saxena model the potential impact of these fleets on US transport sector emissions based on greenhouse-gas intensity of gasoline and electricity in 2014 and projections for 2030. They estimate that switching to autonomous taxis could result in per-vehicle emissions savings of 87?94% over current conventionally driven vehicles, and 63?82% over projected hybrid vehicles in 2030. The authors suggest that these reduced emissions would result primarily from future decreases in emissions from electricity production, smaller vehicle sizes (as the number of seats needed can be matched to the number of passengers travelling), and longer distances travelled (which reduces the total annual cost of high-efficiency vehicles). Switching to battery-electric autonomous taxis could also reduce oil consumption because oil provides less than 1% of US electricity generation.
In an accompanying News & Views, Austin Brown writes that autonomous taxis “offer great promise for creating a better transportation system while mitigating climate change, but only if policymakers go in with both hands on the wheel instead of letting this exciting new technology develop on autopilot.”