Can self-driving cars help save the environment?

Believe it or not automobiles capable of human trasport have been around for over 200 years now! Since the advent of the automobile, engineers and designers have been focusing on ensuring our comfort and safety mostly be implementing automation and greater efficiency technologies such as  automatic door locks, check engine light, self-parking, seat belt reminders, and regular and adaptive cruise control.

Today’s vehicles are increasingly able to sense their internal systems as well as the outside world through a mesh of sensors, cameras, GPS systems and various other technologies. The next logical step is the evolution into the ability to communicate with the world around through the reality posed by vehicle connectivity.

Connected cars today are configured with GPS tracking and communication systems that allow them to communicate with you and other systems.  This connectivity allows for much more than simply making a mobile call or browsing the Web, but when combined with  vehicle automation, connected vehicle technology promises to bring us truly autonomous cars. The driver can disengage and the car’s automated and connected technologies can intelligently, safely, and efficiently take the wheel. Google’s self-driving car is a big step in that direction!

But that’s just the first step. Other possibilities include reduced congestion and considerable fuel and emission reductions. For example, Safe Road Trains for the Environment  the three-year project of Volvo in Europe demonstrated the ability to “platoon” vehicles on an open highway. A lead truck plus three cars — all equipped with cameras, GPS tracking systems, sensors, wireless technology — traveled at speeds of 60 mph, often only 13 feet apart from one another, all while the platoon reaped the fuel efficiencies of reduced drag and the drivers sat back and relaxed, hands free.

When we consider the implications for energy efficiency, fuel consumption, carbon emissions, and vehicle miles traveled, we can begin gleaming all sorts of possible whole-system efficiencies that might be achieved if we take the best of vehicle automation and merge it with the best of connected vehicle technology. Such technologies can not only make us safer, but  they can also benefit people and the planet.