Self-driving taxis promise massive energy savings

Replacing a conventional taxi fleet with self-driving electric taxis in a large city like New York would more than halve energy consumption, found a study from the Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley

Self-driving taxis will soon be a reality for urban dwellers, which is why researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab and the University of California in Berkeley (UC Berkeley) decided to analyse the cost, energy and environmental implications of a fleet of self-driving electric taxis.

The researchers used data from more than 10 million taxi trips in New York City for their study, which was published recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

They found that shared automated electric vehicles, or SAEVs, would be considerably more cost-effective than present-day taxis. What’s more, SAEV taxis drawing power from the current New York City power grid would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 73 per cent and energy consumption by 58 per cent.

Their study was based on today’s standard battery range of 300 kilometres.

“We suspected that you wouldn’t need as much for taxis,” explained UC Berkeley researcher and lead author Gordon Bauer. “We found plenty of time during the day when a portion of the taxis could slip off to recharge, even if just for a few minutes. This greatly reduces the need to have a big battery and therefore drives down cost.”

Key to making this succeed is a dense network of charging stations. Manhattan currently has around 500 chargers for public use, but the researchers concluded that this capacity would need to be at least tripled. Their model was based on a fleet of 7,000 taxis around Manhattan throughout the day.

Image credit: Steve Calcott via Flickr

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