In the first study to assess the energy impact to the USA of smart technology in cars, researchers at New Jersey’s Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT) have put a figure on the potential fuel-cost savings alone: US$6.2bn.
While many studies have looked at the social impacts of driverless cars or those with high levels of automation, the SIT study is the first to look at the energy impact on lower levels of automation and individual technologies that are either already introduced in current cars, pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles or those that will be in the next few years.
Led by Yeganeh Hayeri, an assistant professor at Stevens whose work lies at the intersection of civil and environmental engineering and public policy, and in partnership with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the team set out to calculate the impact of these new technologies on fuel-saving cost.
The researchers conducted a comprehensive review of the literature on the energy and safety impacts of automated features, providing precise data for predicting how these features would affect fuel consumption across the USA.
Using these data, they then analyzed the benefits and costs associated with each automation technology, which were categorized into three groups:
• Warning systems – such as those for lane departures, blind spots, forward collisions, speed limit detection, and traffic incident or congestion warnings;
• Control systems – such as adaptive cruise control, collision detection braking, active braking and cooperative adaptive cruise control;
• Information systems – such as parking aid systems and dynamic route guidance.
The research shows that drivers of low-level automated vehicles (those equipped with all technologies considered in this study) could reduce fuel consumption by 27-119 gallons (102-450 liters) per year for each vehicle. This saving equates to 6-23% of average fuel consumption in the USA and could save each vehicle owner up to US$60 to US$266.
The team notes that savings from the new technologies would be particularly noticeable over busy periods, such as the Thanksgiving weekend, when it is estimated that 54.3 million Americans made a road trip, a 4.8% increase over last year, despite drivers paying the highest gas prices in four years, according to AAA.
The driver assistance technologies help reduce the impact of traffic congestion, construction, a shortage of parking, idling engines at stoplights, intersections and construction zones, or drivers getting lost.
“The savings are not insignificant,” said Hayeri. “That translates to between US$60 and US$266 in the pocket of car owners every year, not to mention additional savings created for each driver due to more smoothly-flowing traffic, fewer accidents and aerodynamic efficiency of all other vehicles on the road.
“Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic. What we did is put a number of fuel-saving costs that come with technologies that assist us with making smarter choices on the road. We hope to use this information for improving future transportation, and consequentially improve the environment, save lives and keep the air we breathe cleaner.”