UC Berkeley study shows possible self-driving taxis in near future

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UC Berkeley laboratory research reveals that automated electric taxis will benefit the environment and are a possibility in the near future.

A study recently published by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory described the lab’s research on the environmental consequences and costs of implementing shared automated electric vehicles, or SAEVs, in New York City. In comparison to gas-powered vehicles, SAEVs would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 73 percent and energy consumption by 58 percent.

This concept of hailing self-driving taxis is based on collected data from more than 10 million taxi trips in New York City. The researchers discovered that this kind of transportation system is best suited for dense, urban environments in which trips cover shorter distances.

The study’s co-author, Jeffery Greenblatt, said the electric vehicle industry, which is focused on personal electric car markets, is trying to expand the range of self-driving cars, which stands at a current 200 miles. Taxis, in comparison, do not require as many miles of range and can also be charged when they are not in use. Therefore, the costs of SAEVs are driven down because long battery life is not necessary — the ability to implement them mainly depends on the charging network throughout the city.

“A lot of people are concerned about the safety of autonomous vehicles, but in reality, when you compare it to actual physical drivers, the safety of self-driving cars is much higher than that of traditional drivers. I want to ride my Uber in peace without talking to the drivers,” said campus freshman Christopher Tan.

Gordon Bauer, another co-author of the study, said in an email that he believes that these SAEVs will come to the Bay Area a lot earlier than New York City because of the more mild weather conditions and the resources available in Silicon Valley.

“This could be a huge boon to the Berkeley community to the extent that it reduces local air pollution and makes it easier and cheaper to get around without owning a car,” Bauer said in an email.

He added that it is important to take into account the possible effects that this may have on driving jobs, uses of public transit and traffic congestion.

Several other car and ride-sharing companies have already begun to make plans for the future of autonomous vehicles. Self-driving technology company Waymo recently announced its own plans to have functioning self-driving taxis by 2020. General Motors also plans to create its own self-driving cars without gas pedals or steering wheels by next year, according to Bauer.

“It’s the future; it’s what’s next,” said campus senior Noah Kim. “It’s a little sad because it’s going to split blue-collar and white-collared jobs even more. It is the future, but it’s moving to an era where blue-collared jobs are slowly disappearing, so the question is which side are you on.”

Contact Sunny Tsai at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @stsai_dc.