Would Robot Taxis Ease Carbon Emissions?

Will robot taxis (or, alternately, autonomous cars) result in environmental gains as well as convenience?

A paper published today in Nature Climate Change, Autonomous taxis could greatly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions of Light-duty vehicles, examines the effect to greenhouse gas emissions.


(Johnny Cab, probably not an Electric Vehicle)

Saxena Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are conveyances to move passengers or freight without human intervention. AVs are potentially disruptive both technologically and socially1–3, with claimed benefits including increased safety, road utilization,driver productivity and energy savings1–6. Here we estimate2014 and 2030 greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and costs of autonomous taxis (ATs), a class of fully autonomous 7, 8 shared AVs likely to gain rapid early market share, through three synergistic effects: (1) future decreases in electricityGHG emissions intensity, (2) smaller vehicle sizes resulting from trip-specific AT deployment, and (3) higher annual vehicle-miles travelled (VMT), increasing high-efficiency (especially battery-electric) vehicle cost-effectiveness.Combined, these factors could result in decreased US per-mileGHG emissions in 2030 per AT deployed of 87–94% below current conventionally driven vehicles (CDVs), and 63–82%below projected 2030 hybrid vehicles9, without including other energy-saving benefits of AVs. With these substantialGHG savings, ATs could enable GHG reductions even if totalVMT, average speed and vehicle size increased substantially.Oil consumption would also be reduced by nearly 100%.

Philip K. Dick wasn't worried about carbon emissions (as far as I know), but robot taxis were on his list of tech to watch for:

The sedative calmed him down a trifle; he emerged and flagged down a robot taxi.

"Main Directorate building," he told the driver. "And take your time."

"All right, sir or madam," the MacMillan robot answered, adding, "Whatever you say." MacMillans weren't capable of fine discriminations.
(Read more about Phil Dick's robot taxi)

Other writers loved the "robotic taxi" idea, in various guises. Larry Niven's bubble cars from World out of Time (1976) or the tin cabbie from James Blish's 1957 novel Cities in Flight. A more recent take can be found in Alan Dean Foster's 2006 novel Sagramanda; see the automated taxi.

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