With climate change and resource management crises making international headlines, the industries building our modern world have taken notice. While our way of life has often been dependent on the use of fossil fuels and other unsustainable practices, we now have to address what kind of world we’re leaving behind and the impact of our choices on the human race. We must start changing our ways of life to best accommodate the rest of the world, as well as the generations who’ll follow us.
One of the biggest hits to our environment, as well as one of our most treasured assets, is efficient transportation. But in the face of climate change, it’s become clear that we are using our travel systems are flawed. In fact, transportation in this country alone takes up almost a third of the U.S.’s total energy.
However, scientists and engineers are working on reducing our environmental impact and contribute more positively to the Earth. New advances on this front will be happening soon: Experts anticipate that fully electric, self-driving cars will hit the streets this year. But first, let’s take a look at how sustainable travel will evolve in the near future and where we seem to be going with it.
The Popularity of Electric Vehicles
Electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular, and they will continue to grow in popularity going forward. While China currently uses electric vehicles more than any other country, the United States is third in the running. This number is expected to increase, especially considering the immediate personal benefits that come with owning an electric car.
For example, the cost of owning an electric car is 66 percent cheaper than a traditional gas car. On top of that, one car is projected to last 50 years, which means one car per lifetime is possible. Compared that to the average 10-15 years of a standard car on the market now, the cost benefit is clear.
Who doesn’t like to spend less money on automotive costs? Less maintenance, less money spent on gas, and cheaper insurance are all benefits of electric vehicles. And on top of all of this comes the environmental benefits.
The Rise of Smart Transportation
You may be aware of smart technology — those devices that have been designed specifically to work without as much human prompting. You commonly see it as the ultimate commodification of artificial intelligence. Your Amazon Echo, the Siri on your iPhone, the Cortana Assistant App, and algorithms on websites such as Google and YouTube are all examples of smart technology seeing common use. However, smart technology extends beyond your handheld devices or the websites you visit.
Enter smart transportation, or automated cars, trains, and planes. Currently, engineers are making headway in this like never before. Last year, the New York Times published an article titled “Are You Ready To Fly Without a Human Pilot?” which revealed that the technology for airplanes to fly without human pilots, though not perfect yet, exists and is being experimented with (though it probably will not be utilized openly in the near future). And the New York City Symposium on Connected and Autonomous Vehicles has recently employed one of their first creations into the city.
With smart transportation headed toward mass exposure and commodification, our lives should get much easier, right? Maybe, but smart transportation has energy efficiency benefits too, because nearly all smart technology — not just self-operated vehicles — is being designed to reduce CO2 emissions and thus help with the greenhouse effect. A lot of this is being spearheaded in Europe, and a great example is high temperature smart sensing, or devices that more or less manage how much CO2 is in the air. We’ll see what other big inventions take place in the future.
Finding Focus in Automated Cars
We’ve established that, in addition to autonomous vehicles’ positive effects on the economy and automobile industry, they will likely be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. While they have been designed to do this by means of aerodynamics and electric engines, machines also tend to do things more efficiently than humans. For instance, how much one might press on the gas pedal or how much time they leave a car idling are all reduced by the calculations programmed into an autonomous vehicle. Idling in particular is damaging not only to the environment, but to the car itself. According to Azuga, “Research on the subject tells us that every hour of idling has the equivalent effect in terms of wear and tear as about 75 miles of driving on the road,” meaning that even these small things most people don’t think about as dangerous, can be mitigated through autonomous vehicles.
Because of this, we’re now seeing that while electric cars are efficient, smart transportation may have even more to offer. While automated vehicles’ largest social investment is probably that of safety, they also have significant environmental benefits. For example, self-driving vehicles drive on a gridlock system, and studies show that there’s a correlation between that and fuel efficiency.
Even big rig vehicles that transport products and resources across the country are looking to be automated, which is a big deal for sustainability, because these trucks contribute harshly to the greenhouse effect due to their size and how far they often have to drive. Right now, they are necessary to how we run our world, so why not automate them?
While CO2 emissions and the traditional state of driving is still a problem, thankfully headway is being made to create cleaner forms of transportation through smart technology. How do you work to minimize your carbon footprint? We’d love to hear your experience, so please leave a comment in the replies below!