Most vehicles traveling on the roadways today provide a double whammy of environmental and safety concerns.
The issue was adeptly captured by a Morgan Stanley analysis, “Your car is arguably one of the most underutilized, polluting, time-consuming and dangerous machines on Earth. Consider that cars on average are in operation for only about an hour each day, but they account for 45% of global oil demand and, on average, 3,500 daily deaths worldwide.”
The transportation sector, including our cars and trucks, generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA notes over 90 percent of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum based, which includes primarily gasoline and diesel.
Looking at safety, according to the 2018 U.S. government figures, motor vehicle crashes claimed nearly 37,000 lives. These crashes also resulted in millions of injuries and $836 billion in property loss, medical and emergency bills, productivity loss, lost quality of life, and other related costs.
But change is on the horizon.
Electric vehicles (EVs), vehicle automation from advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) have the potential to make our world a safer, more livable place.
EVs offer major benefits as noted by Ceres, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions, cost savings on fuel and maintenance, and improved passenger safety. According to Go Ultra Low, EVs provide a far more comfortable, relaxing driving experience and electric cars have instant torque, providing improved response for maneuverability.
Automated vehicles – both ADAS and CAVs – have the potential to reduce crashes, prevent injuries and save lives, according to NHTSA. The agency also states automated vehicles can help smooth traffic flow and reduce traffic congestion. Annually, Americans spent an estimated 8.8 billion hours in traffic, cutting into time at work or with family, increasing fuel costs and vehicle emissions.
The promise of realizing these benefits may be contributing to growing appeal among the public for these technologies. For example, a McKinsey and World Economic Forum global survey released in March found “consumer interest in autonomous and electric vehicles has increased.” In North America, more than 55 percent of survey respondents expressed increased interest in these vehicles.
Let’s explore the environmental and safety advantages these solutions can deliver today.
EV drivetrains are far more efficient than the internal combustion engines used in the vast majority of cars and trucks today. According to fueleconomy.gov, an EV drivetrain can send 77% of system power to the wheels while a gasoline-powered vehicle sends only 12 to 30% of its power to the wheels. On top of that, with proper energy recapture, especially during braking, it is possible to make an EV 77 to 100% energy efficient.
Replacing gas-powered vehicles with EVs also provides significant public health benefits by reducing pollution that can exacerbate respiratory diseases such as asthma. Additionally, EVs can use renewable energy sources, while gas-powered vehicles cannot.
ADAS and CAVs deliver strong environmental benefits too. These solutions enable vehicles to perform better on the road – at a higher level than human drivers. A recent study by the Southwest Research Institute proved that automation technologies improved fuel economy by 20%. Some studies show that ADAS and CAV technologies could improve a vehicle’s fuel consumption by up to 40%. Additionally, as we will discuss below, CAVs’ ability to reduce the number of crashes on our roadways may not only save lives but can also help stop vehicles burning fuel while stuck in traffic congestion – which amounts to 3.3 billion gallons a year in America according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
According to a Capgemini Research Institute report, an environmentally sustainable means of travel can help encourage consumers to use/buy CAVs. Consumers find better fuel efficiency (73%) to be a powerful use factor, closely followed by a reduced environmental hazard and carbon footprint (71%) as key issues to encourage the use of self-driving cars.
Turning to safety, in a Design News article, David Cole, chairman emeritus of The Center for Automotive Research, noted three primary safety advantages for EVs over gasoline-powered cars. They included batteries are located low in the vehicle, dropping the center of gravity and reducing the possibility of rollover. Second, the elimination of the internal combustion engine, which typically transmits crash energy rearward. Cole also noted that EVs’ elimination of gasoline and other petroleum agents from the system eliminates the safety hazards they pose during a crash.
Another EV advantage, called out in How Stuff Works, is the vehicle’s power goes directly to the wheels for instant acceleration. This makes EVs quicker on the start than gas-powered vehicles which can help a driver maneuver away from road hazards.
EVs equipped with automated solutions have the potential to significantly reduce the number of people killed in traffic crashes on U.S. roadways annually – which totals nearly 37,000 according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
While certain ADAS deployments have shown some positive results, there are still significant changes that ought to be made in performance and consumer experience. Lidar sensors allow developers to create superior ADAS, addressing edge-cases for current approaches, including curvy roads, potholes, intersections, on/off ramps, residential areas and dark conditions. To prove this, Velodyne conducted tests in nighttime conditions comparing a camera and radar-based PAEB system with Velodyne’s PAEB system which uses Velodyne’s Velarray H800 sensor and Vella™ software. In these conditions, the camera and radar-based PAEB system failed in all scenarios while the lidar-based system avoided a crash in every situation tested.
The safety benefits of CAVs are likely enormous. With 94% percent of serious crashes the result of human error, they offer the potential to save lives and reduce injuries by automating driving. Sensor technologies, including lidar, continuously monitor the surrounding environment to help determine the safest way to navigate and direct a self-driving vehicle. For instance, Velodyne’s Alpha Prime™ sensor with its 300-meter range is specifically made for autonomous driving in complex conditions for travel up to highway speeds.
Lidar also provides important advantages to autonomous EVs. Lidar sensors support precise, reliable navigation in real-time autonomous operation in urban and highway environments. They can detect and track vehicles, pedestrians and other obstructions to help autonomous vehicles safely navigate at various speeds. This includes traveling night and day in a range of road conditions such as rain, sleet and snow.
EVs and vehicle automation hold great promise for improving quality of life. They both have the potential to green the transportation sector by reducing fuel consumption and transferring our fuel source to a mode that can be made renewable. EVs and vehicle automation also provide the means to make our roadways safer for all road users. A safer, sustainable transportation system can be a benefit to all of society.