According to a new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, fleets of autonomous taxis could be the way of the future. Unlike the futurism of the 1950s, which would have had us all piloting personal helicopters to work by the 1980s, this study posits that the autonomous taxis would be more cost effective, and significantly greener, than traditional taxi fleets.
By 2030, autonomous, “right-sized” taxis could be driving people around more efficiently. Right-sizing refers to making sure that the car is the rights size for the job, such as using a one-seat car for one person, instead of a sedan for the same trip. By dispatching right-sized cars to pick up passengers, we can reduce emissions–but by eliminating the drivers, we gain in other ways as well. It improves efficiency, because now you don’t need a two-seat car for one passenger. Autonomous cars also have a variety of energy saving tricks themselves.
Those tricks, such as following closely behind other cars to reduce drag, weren’t actually taken into consideration in this study, but even without them, an autonomous, alternate energy fleet would be 63% to 80% more energy efficient than projected hybrid cars and 90% more efficient than fossil fuel cars. Replacing only 5% of 2030 car sales (about 800,000 vehicles) with such cars would cut about 7 million barrels of oil, and, of course, it would be better for the environment.
That 7 million barrel reduction in oil use also translates to about 2.4 million metric tons less CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of using about 1,000 two-megawatt wind turbines.
Considering how drastically we need to reduce CO2 emissions over the next century, autonomous taxi fleets sound like a pretty good idea. The researchers also predict that, by 2030, we’ll be producing significantly more electricity via renewable, greener energy sources, which would reduce CO2 emissions even further, making electric cars an even better option.