Self-driving cars: An energy solution

Self-driving cars may seem like the things of dreamers, unrealistic ideas supported by those too lazy or pompous to drive themselves. But a recent Houston conference  highlighted the idea using a video that demonstrated how they could cut down energy waste.

While speaking at the Total Energy USA Conference, Lawrence Burns, a former General Motors executive who is now director of the program on sustainable mobility at Columbia University, played portions of a Shanghai 2030 video (below) that showed the energy advantages of self-driving cars.

(Skip through the lengthy video to see examples of the types of small, self-driving vehicles that GM believes could change the way we commute and consume energy).

The video was developed as part of a GM presentation on a vision for the future of Shanghai, he said.

It presented a world without traffic accidents and with lighter, smarter vehicles that didn’t need the same safety systems that currently add weight to cars and make them inefficient.

Removing the human element from driving, makes cars less dangerous and more efficient, Burns said. It removes the need for stopping at intersections, as shown in the video, since all cars would be in communication and would coordinate their speeds and spacing to flow through intersections seamlessly, he said. Emergency vehicles would also move more smoothly, as shown in the video, since autonomous cars would move out of the way, he said.

Today, only about 1 percent of the energy burned in a car’s engine is used to move the driver, Burns said.

Self-driving cars, Burns said, could vastly improve energy efficiency because of weight and driving improvements.