MIT and Harvard study questions emissions expectations for electric robots


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The research comes amid broad hope that electric, self-driving shared taxis can one day help governments meet pollution reduction goals. Specifically, this comes at a time when California lawmakers may codify such hopes into law.

Senate Bill 500 would demand almost an all-electric future, ensuring that all new lightweight axis robots deployed in the state would emit zero emissions by model year 2031. This month, the bill has been passed by the Senate and State Assembly and awaits the signature of Governor Gavin Newsom. The bill garnered broad support from clean energy groups.

An analysis from the nonprofit National Union of Concerned Scientists found that ridesharing services cause 69% more pollution than the trips they replace, in large part due to “deadheading” miles. that accumulate when vehicles are driven without passengers. The electrification of carpooling vehicles is a game-changer for the environment – by cutting emissions by half compared to private vehicle trips and by 70% in carpooling situations.

“Automated vehicles can be part of a clean and fair transport system as long as they run on zero-emission electricity, lead to widespread pooling of trips and are deployed in coordination with frequent, reliable and reliable public transport. accessible, ”Elizabeth Irvin, a senior transportation analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in support of the bill.

But it’s essentially a long list of asterisks that the research paper, “Estimating the Energy Impact of Electric and Autonomous Taxis: Evidence from a Selected Market,” suggests it won’t come to fruition without significant public policy incentives.

Even without electric powertrains and autonomous driving technology, Nunes says the United States could cut emissions by pooling the rides now. But American commuters have a long-standing aversion, and research underscores the problematic nature of expecting this to change with new technology.

A report by the University of California, Davis Institute of Transportation Studies released this year found that “pooled rides may become even more unattractive in the automated future.”

Research released by the Federal Transit Administration in August examined paratransit users in the Phoenix area. These riders, who used the Waymo service, said riding with strangers was their “least desirable option” and that self-sufficient solo travel resulted in more overall travel.

Likewise, Nunes research suggests that a net increase in power consumption and emissions will occur in the electric robotaxis, as riders will be even less inclined to cluster with others.

“Invariably, what carpooling can do is increase your commute time,” Nunes said.

“And even more than that, it increases the variability of travel time. You don’t know when you’re going to get somewhere, because you don’t know where the others are going. And the second part, for reasons of personal safety and privacy, people don’t want to share their rides. “

Additionally, Nunes and her cohorts suggest that cheap robots might not increase transit, but rather decrease its ridership base.

This translates into a double whammy of public transit becoming less environmentally efficient on a passenger-per-mile basis and creating car trips that would not otherwise exist.

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