Self-driving cars could do more than allow passengers to nap, read e-mails, or watch movies on the road. When used as taxis, scientists say, the type of robotic vehicles that Google and Uber are building could also cut greenhouse gas emissions a lot.
An autonomous or self-driving electric cab in 2030 could emit up to 94 percent fewer emissions per mile than a conventional gasoline car of today, and it could be far cheaper than taxis with drivers, says a study Monday by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Almost half the savings occur, because the taxi is “right-sized” for each trip.
"Most trips in the U.S. are taken singly, meaning one- or two-seat cars would satisfy most trips," author Jeffery Greenblatt says in announcing the findings. Small taxis use less energy and emit fewer greenhouse gases than larger ones that carry multiple passengers or those with luggage.
Consumers won’t be buying cars that completely drive themselves anytime soon. Still, tech companies and conventional automakers are experimenting with robotics. General Motors, for example, has announced that its 2016 Cadillac sedan will include a system that keeps the car in the lane and automates both braking and acceleration.
Google’s adorable self-driving car, which looks like the police cruisers in Disney's Cars movies, hit the road in California this summer. It has no steering wheel or pedals but, to meet California law, it will have a human aboard just in case.
“If all goes well, we’d like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years," Google said in May, noting it will build 100 prototypes for testing. Google is looking to develop its own car-sharing business. Its Israeli-founded navigation app Waze will debut a pilot project in Tel Aviv that offers to connect commuters going in the same direction.