A New Way to Save Gas: Talking Cars

The Google self-driving car maneuvers through the streets of in Washington, DC May 14, 2012. The system on a modified Toyota Prius combines information gathered from Google Street View with artificial intelligence software that combines input from video cameras inside the car, a LIDAR sensor on top of the vehicle, radar sensors on the front of the vehicle and a position sensor attached to one of the rear wheels that helps locate the car's position on the map. As of 2010, Google has tested several vehicles equipped with the system, driving 1,609 kilometres (1,000 mi) without any human intervention, in addition to 225,308 kilometres (140,000 mi) with occasional human intervention. Google expects that the increased accuracy of its automated driving system could help reduce the number of traffic-related injuries and deaths, while using energy and space on roadways more efficiently. 
National Journal
Jason Plautz
Add to Briefcase
Jason Plautz
Aug. 28, 2014, 11:55 a.m.

Let­ting your car talk wire­lessly with the vehicles around it won’t just make your drives short­er and safer—con­nec­ted cars can save mil­lions of gal­lons of fuel as well.

Pic­ture this: Cars could be linked up in a “pla­toon” of sorts, where cars are wire­lessly con­nec­ted to fol­low one lead vehicle, which con­trols the ac­cel­er­a­tion, brak­ing, and steer­ing of the vehicles that trail it. Radar that de­term­ines the prox­im­ity and speed of the oth­er vehicles in the group can al­low the cars to drive much closer to­geth­er than nor­mal, max­im­iz­ing draft­ing be­hind big­ger trucks and keep­ing the cars mov­ing faster and more ef­fi­ciently.

Em­ploy­ing such com­mu­nic­at­ive cars could save one driver as much as sev­en gal­lons of fuel a year, or 75 gal­lons a year for heavy trucks on long-haul trips, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port ex­amin­ing the sus­tain­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits of trans­port­a­tion in­nov­a­tions.

The re­port from the In­tel­li­gent Trans­port­a­tion So­ci­ety of Amer­ica, a group pro­mot­ing ad­vanced trans­port­a­tion tech­no­logy, looked at 16 ad­vances in the trans­port­a­tion sec­tor, from ef­fi­cient drive trains to con­nec­ted stoplights. Vehicle tech­no­lo­gies such as ad­apt­ive cruise con­trol and con­nectiv­ity could save a total of 110 mil­lion bar­rels of oil over a dec­ade, the equi­val­ent of 20 mil­lion met­ric tons of car­bon di­ox­ide.

In­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing con­nec­ted stoplights and co­ordin­a­tion to clear ac­ci­dents faster, were found to save a total of 117 mil­lion bar­rels of oil, or 19 mil­lion met­ric tons of car­bon over the same time peri­od.

“When ap­plied and con­nec­ted on a na­tion­al scale, ad­vanced vehicle, in­fra­struc­ture, and af­ter­mar­ket tech­no­lo­gies can re­duce U.S. oil con­sump­tion by hun­dreds of mil­lions of bar­rels per year, in some cases trip­ling the ef­fi­ciency be­ne­fits of cur­rently avail­able tech­no­lo­gies,” said ITS Amer­ica pres­id­ent Scott Belch­er.

Con­nec­ted cars—loosely defined as any car with devices or tech­no­logy link­ing it to oth­er cars or tech­no­logy out­side the car—would al­low drivers to ac­cess mo­bile apps and ser­vices on the road, everything from mu­sic and videos to traffic and com­mu­nic­a­tions. Google’s An­droid Auto plat­form and the Apple Car­Play would es­sen­tially bring both com­pan­ies’ smart­phones to the dash­board, while more ad­vanced sys­tems would con­nect cars to each oth­er.

It’s the “vehicle-to-vehicle,” or V2V, tech­no­logy that sup­port­ers say would help avert ac­ci­dents and make the road­ways more ef­fi­cient by let­ting cars “talk” to each oth­er, avoid­ing col­li­sions and beam­ing out in­form­a­tion about in­cid­ents or delays. The Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment is even work­ing on rule­mak­ing on V2V com­mu­nic­a­tions to be re­leased by 2016, while the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion is look­ing at the band­width im­plic­a­tions.

The ef­fi­ciency re­port also looked at case stud­ies on oth­er in­fra­struc­ture en­hance­ments, in­clud­ing a net­work of ad­apt­ive sig­nal con­trols in Pitt­s­burgh’s East Liberty neigh­bor­hood, where com­puters mon­itored up­com­ing traffic and cre­ated new tim­ing plans every second. That sys­tem, ITS found, slashed car­bon emis­sions by 21 per­cent and re­duced travel time by 25 per­cent.

A sim­il­ar syn­chron­ized traffic-light net­work in Los Angeles saved 38 mil­lion gal­lons of fuel and cut 337,000 met­ric tons of car­bon di­ox­ide a year.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has already been look­ing at con­nec­ted cars and smart in­fra­struc­ture, but sup­port­ers said the hope is that Con­gress will find a way to in­teg­rate it in­to a reau­thor­iz­a­tion of the sur­face-trans­port­a­tion bill. The com­bin­a­tion of fuel sav­ings and driv­ing ef­fi­ciency im­prove­ments, said Cath­er­ine Mc­Cul­lough of the In­tel­li­gent Car Co­ali­tion, should mo­tiv­ate le­gis­lat­ors to act.

“In gen­er­al, we need to make sure we are in­centiv­iz­ing in­vest­ment in in­nov­a­tion and make sure we are keep­ing in mind that when in­nov­a­tions lead to a great­er good, it makes a lot of sense for the gov­ern­ment to get be­hind them,” Mc­Cul­lough said. “It’s so im­port­ant when we’re talk­ing about cli­mate change and when we’re talk­ing about sav­ing people’s lives on the road. You don’t get high­er stakes than that.”

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