Here’s an interesting post at Gigaom on the value of a robot car, based on Google’s creation of a Grand Challenge-like self-driving automobile.
Here’s the 2010 Times report
In the article, the author notes that heavily computerized hybrids and electrics already “suggest” driving patterns that conserve fuel – in other words, they try to ‘nudge’ the drivers to sustainable behavior:
“All of the hybrid and electric vehicles I’ve driven for our weekly Green Overdrive show have computerized systems that encourage and show the driver how to drive as efficiently as possible to save battery life and gas…Using networks, the web and software to share “stuff,”and rethink the idea of ownership will be one of the most important Internet-based cultural shifts of my generation.”
So, the future is not caring about cars, sharing cars, and (apparently) having robot cars self-drive, and either decide on sustainable driving, or ‘nudge’ human drivers to sustainable behavior.
There’s some support for this. Compared to older generations, Millennials (born 1982-2004) just don’t care about cars…
“Millennials in America are more interested in smartphones than a set of wheels. In fact, General Motors found that teens dislike driving because it eats up time that could be better spent texting.”
In other words, robots will make us more sustainable, by (1) driving more sustainably than we do, (2) nudging us to be more sustainable, and (3) deconstructing the idea of ‘ownership’ which in turn would encourage individual re-using shared resources (in this case, shared cars).
And, we assume, a completely self-driving car would drive in the most sustainable way – it would never drive in a way that increased pollution or wasted resources.
The counter-argument is that robot cars, and shared cars that drive to us (like the old Batman movies) when we summon them will make us live even further out in the exurbs, and even fatter and sicker:
And, driving is (according to this study behind a $200 barrier) 50 times worse then shopping online – “Black Friday” is evil compared to “Cyber Monday”.
A robot car is still a car driving to the mall.
As usual, the discussion is about how much more technology we need to make things sustainable. But throughout history, new technology causes an increase in consumption, not reduced consumption. It’s a safe bet that robot cars will cause a net increase in energy use, due to Jevon’s Law:
We can safely assume that robots will not be used in a ‘sustainable’ (read reduced energy consumption) world. Instead, if vast new stores of energy are discovered, and energy available per person rises, we can expect robots to become widespread.