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Is Automated Driving More Sustainable?

Opportunities for sustainability exist everywhere—in our homes, in our communities, and even in our modes of transportation. Today, let’s examine if automated services—including automated vehicle technology used in cars, transit, and automated parking—could lead to greater sustainability for all. But before you drive away, keep an open mind.

A February article from npj Urban Sustainability digs into this topic. As the primary source of road traffic pollution, vehicle emissions degrade air quality and endanger human health. The ICCT (Intl. Council on Clean Transportation) estimated global carbon dioxide emissions related to transportation will increase significantly in the future, growing more than 70% by 2050.

Let’s consider how automated transit systems might help for a minute. This technology could use on-demand, dynamically routed data to determine routes, which could also reduce the amount of time in transit, and thus the amount of emissions emitted from a vehicle. As we know, 5G connectivity, AI (artificial intelligence), and V2X (vehicle-to-everything) communications are driving digital transformation in automotive and transit.

In fact, a Research and Markets report suggests the most promising new features and services coming to vehicles by 2040 are based on AI technologies, such as machine learning and computer vision, to advance autonomous driving, electrification, sustainable mobility, and more. If all of this was used in conjunction with EVs (electric vehicles), the amount of emissions would be reduced even further in the future.

As one example, here in South Carolina, Scout Motors plans to build all-electric, next generation trucks and rugged SUVs at a new $2 billion U.S. manufacturing facility that will create 4,000 jobs. The internal engineering is focused on attributes such as ground clearance, approach angles, all-electric range, and new digital features.

As another example, with autonomous parking in place, drivers do not need to circle a garage or town looking for a parking spot. Rather, they can be alerted directly where to go, reducing harmful emissions from vehicles. Shared mobility can also provide value, as it reduces the number of trips to a particular location.

Still, the npj Urban Sustainability suggests there are still many uncertainties about the environmental and energy effects of shared autonomous vehicles. On the one hand, these vehicles can save energy and reduce emissions by, for example, promoting transportation efficiency, increasing road capacity, mitigating congestion, reducing accident frequency, matching vehicle sizes to trip requirements, and eco-driving. On the other hand, SAVs can lower people’s marginal travel costs and make the locational decisions of residents and enterprises more free, leading to urban sprawl and increased travel time, distance, and frequency.

It seems the jury is still out on the exact impact shared autonomous vehicles will have on the environment. It will have to be a trend we will continue to track and monitor. Time will tell the ultimate outcome.

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