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article imageAutonomous vehicles could be bad for the environment

By Tim Sandle     Mar 18, 2018 in Environment
Detroit - There are many advantages that can be delivered by autonomous cars but environmental impact might not be one of them unless modifications are undertaken to the size and weight of the technology, according to a new research study.
The study, from the University of Michigan, concludes that the added weight, electricity demand and aerodynamic drag, especially from the sensors and computers used in autonomous vehicles, are set to be significant contributors to their lifetime energy use and greenhouse gas emissions relating to autonomous vehicles. To avoid this, technological development needs a renewed environmental focus.
Autonomous vehicles are set to deliver many benefits, with many car companies set to roll out production vehicles with driverless capabilities by 2020. The benefits include safer roads, with human error removed from the equation; plus, helping to develop smart cities through tailored traffic control. Commuters will also save time, being able to engage in other activities on the journey to an from work.
An environmental solution may arise with the computers set to operate autonomous cars. For example, each vehicle could be optimized to ensure fuel consumption is as efficient as possible. Another potential green benefit is fewer cars on the road, due to more focused journeys.
However, smart technology needs to become 'smarter' in terms of its hardware design, especially with its density. The new research found that the wireless data transmissions required for onboard navigation maps are a significant contributor to a an autonomous vehicle's energy use. Also impacting on power consumption are the onboard computers.
According to lead researcher, Dr. Gregory Keoleian: "Our findings highlight the need to focus on energy efficiency when designing autonomous vehicles so that the full environmental benefits of this emerging, transformative technology can be realized. We hope this work contributes to a more sustainable mobility ecosystem."
As part of the evaluation, the researchers look into two types of connected and automated vehicles: those powered by internal combustion engines and battery-powered electric vehicles. The outcome was that autonomous vehicles with electric powertrains have lifetime greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent lower than vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines, which means investing in battery-powered electric vehicles only makes societal sense.
The research has been published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, with the peer reviewed research paper titled "Life Cycle Assessment of Connected and Automated Vehicles: Sensing and Computing Subsystem and Vehicle Level Effects."
More about autonomous vehicles, Vehicles, selfdriving cars, selfdriving car, Pollution
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