Sustainability

18.03 2019

Op-ed: Self-driving a blessing or a curse? It’s time for policymakers to decide

It’s up to policymakers to decide whether self-driving will be a blessing or a curse for the environment, writes Einride’s founder and CEO Robert Falck in an op-ed today, in Sweden’s largest tech magazine, Ny Teknik. Full article here (Swedish).

The gist of the argument, in English:

Global warming and the challenges posed by the rapid development of AI are two of the most pressing issues facing policymakers today. Which is why it is unfortunate that public debate has remained largely silent on how one is likely to affect the other.

Several studies all point to the same conclusion: the widespread introduction of self-driving technology is likely to increase traffic significantly. Although putting a figure on the problem is difficult, one simulation – sponsored by the Institute for Mobility Research, a BMW research facility – showed an increase in the share of automated vehicles in the passenger car fleet to 40 percent would see the number of vehicle miles traveled rise by 9 percent.

Road transport already accounts for approximately 20 percent of global CO2 emissions. The tragic combination of autonomous drive and petrol- or diesel-powered engines would see that figure rise dramatically. That’s one scenario: Self-driving as a curse for the environment.

The good news is that the outcome could be very different. Remove the driver’s cab and electrification of road freight transport is perfectly feasible. In conjunction with a shift to renewables – another fast-evolving technology – CO2 emissions could be reduced very significantly.

In most countries and states, including Sweden, testing self-driving vehicles on public roads requires a permit from government authorities. By restricting such permits to pilots with all-electric vehicles or otherwise environmentally friendly vehicles, law-makers would put pressure on the automotive industry to steer away from a dangerous path.

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