Amazing How Driverless Cars Could Actually Hurt the Environment
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We humans have always dreamed of getting into a vehicle every morning that already knows the way to work. It could drive us there safely and quickly.
Think of how less stressful life would be. No more would we arrive to work frustrated from heavy traffic or even a dose of road rage.
Joys of automated driving
Whenever our cars are automated, we don’t have to deal with being too drowsy or too tipsy (from one drink too many), which are among the leading causes of traffic fatalities. And factor in the fact that over a million people die in traffic accidents annually¹.
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A computerized algorithm can also find the most fuel and time-efficient route to our destinations. We could see how they might stop and accelerate more smoothly. We know that cars, buses, and trucks account for almost 30% of America’s global warming pollution. Additionally, motor vehicles are the primary source of air pollution throughout the world.
These economic driving practices should collectively save fuel, which, in turn, will reduce exhaust pipe emissions.
This sounds great, right? …. Not so fast.
Self-driving power demands
A study conducted in 2018 at the University of Michigan study in 2018 discovered driverless cars could raise — not reduce — the energy demands of a vehicle². This increased need for power comes mostly from the extra hardware that driverless cars require. For them to maneuver throughout our chaotic, complicated cities, they must have highly advanced lasers, cameras, and other sensors.
All this extra technology also adds weight to the vehicle, which expends more energy.
As if this wasn’t enough, there is a considerable demand from a computational aspect. Cars today monitor everything from engine timing to oil temperature to emergency actions. This means that the vehicle’s systems must store and process many gigabytes of data every single hour — and it must do it rapidly.
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Many have suggested installing bigger batteries into these cars. But this creates even more problems. For starters, it adds more weight to the vehicle, which means more energy expended. Secondly, batteries are tomorrow’s hazardous waste, as their materials are not environmentally friendly.
Raw materials needed for electric cars come from the Democratic Republic of Congo³, which allegedly uses child labor. Even though minerals can be mined from the ocean, countries have long debated mining rights on the ocean floor.
A common problem with new technologies is often affordability — and self-driving cars are no exception. Regardless of the great benefits offered by these vehicles, if the price isn’t right, consumers will not walk away. This remains the biggest reason why electric cars and still considerably less popular than their gas-powered vehicles.
Even worse, there’s no clear indication of what a fully driverless car would cost consumers, but we can be sure of one thing — they won’t be cheap. But there are estimates about the cost of driverless technology — without the car itself — that range from $70,000 to $150,000. A conservative estimate of a total cost from self-driving vehicles would be three to four times the average cost of a new car.
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However, for the time being, driverless cars aren’t ready to be owned by individuals. It is expected that the rollout of these vehicles will be in the form of automated taxis that will drive passengers to their desired destinations⁴.
When we hear of electric vehicles, society has taught us to associate ecological visions with them. But this is not always the case. As mentioned earlier, increasing dependence on batteries introduces a host of different problems — namely hazardous waste.
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After computerized systems are added to driverless cars, energy demands go through the roof. Where does this energy come from? Under our current construct, it has to come from fossil fuels or batteries — both of which hurts the environment.
: World Health Organization. (February 7, 2020). Road traffic injuries. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/road-traffic-injuries.
: James H. Gawron, Gregory A. Keoleian, Robert D. De Kleine, Timothy J. Wallington, and Hyung Chul Kim. (February 15, 2018). Life Cycle Assessment of Connected and Automated Vehicles: Sensing and Computing Subsystem and Vehicle Level Effects. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b04576.
: The Economist. (December 1, 2018). Can the world produce enough cobalt for electric vehicles? https://www.economist.com/business/2018/12/01/can-the-world-produce-enough-cobalt-for-electric-vehicles.
: Mark Bergen. (April 11, 2019). Uber Has Spent More Than $1 Billion on Driverless Cars. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-11/uber-has-spent-more-than-1-billion-on-driverless-cars.