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Will Vehicle Automation Help or Hurt the Environment? Join Our Conversation

April 23, 2019

Many of today’s cars are already available with connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technologies such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Testing of fully autonomous vehicles is underway in cities and states across the United States, including Arizona, Texas, and Wyoming. And 22 US states and Washington, DC, have already passed legislation to shape the rollout and impacts of these vehicles.

We will focus on energy impacts at our upcoming Forum on Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, which will feature policymakers, researchers, and industry leaders such as General Motors, Toyota, and Volvo. To get a sneak peek, we spoke with one of our moderators, Wendy Tao, who heads Smart Cities for Siemens Intelligent Traffic Systems, about the opportunities — and challenges — of a CAV future.


Your team has partnered with local governments on smart city transportation solutions. Which cities are viewing CAVs as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve livability?

Many of the conversations are around safety but there are some key initiatives that are thinking of how to improve environmental objectives.  For example, in Arcadia, California, there is a Live Oak corridor where they are testing how connected vehicle information can provide advice on how to minimize stops and delay to be most efficient in traveling the corridor. Another example that we have worked on is in Newcastle in the UK (Project Compass 4D), where one of the key connected vehicle use cases included a green light speed advisory (priority green wave applications) to reduce overall delay.

The forum will bring together people with a wide range of perspectives. What’s a CAV challenge that calls for a better understanding between technology and policy experts?

One topic we have been working with is interoperability with different manufacturers. Instead of the proprietary activities of the past, manufacturers are needing to play in the same sandbox so a car can drive from Washington, DC, to Seattle and still get the benefits of the CAV technology interpreted in the right way for the motorist. There are plugfests and certifications that support this, but I believe it will continue to be a challenge since this field is changing so rapidly.

What is involved in the adoption of fully autonomous vehicles?

Two parallel tracks are happening. The first is the infrastructure side. The second is the vehicle side. From the infrastructure side, autonomous vehicles have been researched for over two decades, but only in the last two three years have we seen significant deployments. Three significant pilots were supported by the USDOT (US Department of Transportation) in NYC, Tampa, and Wyoming, and numerous smaller pilots followed across the county. At this point, many states have led the charge to significantly invest in infrastructure, including Michigan, Ohio, and Florida.

From the vehicle side, technology has improved and significant investments from big OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and venture capital see the future in AVs. Time frame will be small-scale deployments in the next few years (it’s already happening) but much wider adoption by 2030 (my opinion).

Manufacturers, users, and society at large have great expectations for autonomous vehicles. Can this technology deliver?

I’m not sure, because no one agrees what “deliver” means! Cities are seeing an increase in vehicle miles traveled, which is not exactly helping their congestion problems. But autonomous vehicles hold great promise to give mobility and accessibility to a larger set of needs (seniors who can’t drive, children being picked up and dropped off, food deliveries, the impaired driver). There are many solid use cases emerging, but we should not think of these technologies in a vacuum. These should be paired with a greater transportation system made up of high-quality transit and non-motorized first-mile/last-mile.

How will the vehicles affect the environment?

One determinant is how vehicle miles are priced and charged. Right now, most of our roadways are free, and much of the “curbspace” and “parking” that are not in the most urban areas are also free or low cost. If we do not price for the use or externalities that come with overuse, we will face more impacts to the environment through increased energy use and consumption. In addition, if we displace short trips that could be done by walking and biking and use, for examples, scooters instead, there will be a big impact on increased energy use for the travel, but also the manufacturing of these devices and their batteries.

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