Daily Management Review

Autonomous taxis can be very real possibilities in the near future


Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have published a study which shows that electric cars are not just cost effective, they are good for the environment as well.

Although a fleet of self-driving taxis zigzagging the cityscape seems like a distant dream from the near future, however fantastic this may seem, it however it slowly becoming a reality thanks to Google. It appears their springing into our lives will not only reduce traffic congestions but also, more importantly, reduce per-mile emissions of greenhouse gasses.

As per a study conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), such a system would not mitigate the per-mile emissions of green house gases, but it would be cost effective too. As per the study, per-mile green house gas emissions of an autonomous vehicle, would be around 63%-82% lower than their hybrid vehicles, and around 90% lower than their fuel guzzling cousins. Around half of the savings is thanks to “right-sizing” wherein the size of the vehicle is tailored to each trip’s occupancy requirements.

The results of the study was published online in Nature Climate Change under an article titled “Autonomous taxis could greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions of U.S. light-duty vehicles.” It was co-authored by Samveg Saxena and Jeffery Greenblatt.

Greenblatt explains that, “When we first started looking at autonomous vehicles, we found that, of all the variables we could consider, the use of autonomous vehicles as part of a shared transit system seemed to be the biggest lever that pointed to lower energy use per mile.”

He went on to add, “Most trips in the U.S. are taken singly, meaning one- or two-seat cars would satisfy most trips. That gives us a factor of two savings, since smaller vehicles means reduced energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Right-sizing” can be very cost effective. Consider the following: a single passenger’s requirement would be far less than one with a party of four with luggage. While a person travelling on his own would need a much smaller vehicle than a family of four travelling with their luggage. The assumption being that a fleet of cars is managed by a single entity.

Another factor in its favor is a cleaner electric grid: CO2 spewing power plants are gradually being phased out and those using renewable energy are gradually replacing these older one, which effectively reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Apart from this, autonomous, or self-driving cars, come with additional benefits such as reducing the gap in traffic between cars so as to reduce wind resistance, sooth acceleration and braking as well as routing your trips optimally.

“These are all incremental, but they do add up,” explains Greenblatt. “However, we didn’t even include these effects in our baseline results, and we still get huge savings without them.”

The study also includes an economic analyses which show that although electric vehicles can be expensive to own and operate however, if they are driven extensively in the range of 40,000 – 70,000 miles per year, then their total cost of ownership reduces dramatically and they then become the most cost effective when compared to other options. This includes costs such as fuel, maintenance insurance and the cost of the vehicle purchased through a five year loan plan. Thus, although they may be costly to purchase, they cost much less to operate and so the difference in operation cost – the saving – pays for itself.

“You don’t often find that, where the cheapest is also the greenest,” beamed Greenblatt.

While a fully functional self-driven car would cost around $150,000, an autonomous taxi on the other hand would cost much less just due to the fact that it does not have a driver operating it. In the near future, autonomous taxis will most likely far more cheaper than their human driven counterparts.