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Driverless cars could be a key to fixing climate change

Waymo, the company that grew from Google’s driverless car project, has announced its intent to buy 62,000 Chrysler Pacificas to add to its driverless fleet. The most important part of this deal, however, is where these cars will be used.

Waymo says that it is going to add these cars to its fleet of robotic taxis that will be deployed in areas around Phoenix, Arizona.

Waymo currently has about 600 Chrysler Pacificas in its fleet, and in March 2018, Waymo ordered 20,000 Jaguar I-PACE cars, enough to make several million trips on a typical day.

As the technologies develop, however, it is reasonable to call into question the benefits and drawbacks of these cars.

When self-driving cars become mainstream, they will all be a part of a huge network of cars around them. They will know where they are in relation to other cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. This is a massive benefit because it allows the self-driving software to calculate several things to help it with efficiency. For example, in a parking lot, a self-driving car will already know where the closest available parking spot is and will immediately drive to it.

Scientists in Maryland conducted tests using a smart parking system that sent the location of the closet available spot to drivers in real-time. Using these systems, scientists found a 21 percent drop in time spent looking for a parking spot, which means burning less fuel.

“These driverless cars pose huge environmental benefits and can help us fix the nearing irreversible impact that we are having on the planet. Obviously, until cars gain completely battery powered engines, we won’t be 100 percent efficient, but autonomous cars are a great stepping stone,” said sophomore Julia Heizer.

Driverless cars may also mean the end of traffic as we know it. Since driverless cars can communicate with one another, they are able to throttle themselves just right when driving on the highway to eliminate traffic.

At traffic lights, driverless cars will be able to accelerate simultaneously when the light turns green, which will allow many more cars to pass through. Human drivers have to wait for the other car in front of them to start moving, which creates a delay down the line of cars. Because of this delay, cars have less time to pass, a problem driverless cars can eliminate.

Less sitting around in traffic or waiting for free parking spots is also good for the environment, too. Los Angeles County, California introduced a traffic signal synchronization program to improve the throughput of vehicles on the road. The project resulted in a saving of 31.3 million hours (45.2 lifespans, for reference) of travel, 38 million gallons (2,814.2 swimming pools) of fuel, and 337,000 metric tons (2,612.4 Boeing 747 jumbo jets) of carbon dioxide per year.

With using robotic drivers in these cars, however, comes the drawback of using a computer in general. These cars are expected to be a lot more high-maintenance than their human-driver counterparts. Software updates and sensor failure are all things these cars will add to the already complex list of things that can break in a modern car.

Freshman Harbhoosan Chauhan said, “Driverless cars are the key to the future. For 100 years, we’ve had drivers in cars, so it might seem a little unorthodox to have completely autonomous cars, but they are ultimately going to be how we get around in 10 or 20 years.”

Driverless cars are also set to revolutionize the taxiing industry, as well. With cars driving themselves now, there will essentially be no need for taxicab drivers anymore. With this, taxis could end up being much cheaper services without a salary to have to pay.

Unfortunately, however, replacing human drivers with artificial ones also results in job losses. Many ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are already hurting taxicab driver jobs, and robotic cars could end it entirely.

What do you think about driverless cars? Could they really make any changes in the environment?

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