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Self-driving cars are the future, but how do they impact the environment?

Austin Wang

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Industry giants like Uber, Google, and Tesla are all investing massive amounts into autonomous vehicles. In the next decade, self-driving cars could completely populate our roads. No doubt, they’re the future of transportation. But as cars and trucks account for one-fifth of all U.S. emissions, the advent of autonomous vehicles potentially has huge environmental consequences.

Autonomous Vehicles More Sustainable on a Unit Basis

Autonomous cars are free of human errors, including accelerating too quickly or braking unnecessarily, and are programmed to take the most efficient routes. Thus, a single self-driving car should almost always be more sustainable than a regular car on a per-unit basis.

Tesla, for example, is one of the front runners in the autonomous car market and only builds electric cars.

Autonomous Vehicles May Cause Public Transport Opt-Outs

Of course, if autonomous cars became widely available, more people would choose to drive or use ride-hailing services. If people could sleep or work while their personal cars drove to them to work, many people may opt out of public transportation. Even if self-driving cars are more sustainable than regular cars, a large influx of vehicles on the road could greatly increase emissions.

Yet, autonomous cars could also lower emissions by reducing congestion. Autonomous cars could be programmed to interact with other cars to make routes more efficient. So, if every car on the road were autonomous, traffic congestion could dramatically decrease. Some have also suggested that self-driving cars could drive close together in packs to reduce air resistance. This ‘platoon’ driving could reduce vehicle energy consumption by as much as 25%.

Autonomous Vehicles Would Promote Ridesharing, Reduce Emissions

Furthermore, autonomous cars may also promote ridesharing. Ride-hailing apps like Uber could have fleets of self-driving cars picking up groups of people around the clock. And cutting out labor costs could dramatically reduce ride-hailing costs in the long run. Around three-quarters of commuters drive to work alone, so increasing ride-sharing could dramatically lower the number of cars on the road, as well as emissions.

Since autonomous cars wouldn’t need to park and wait for you to return, carpooling also becomes far more viable. A group of four people could take a single car that takes each of them to their respective offices. Individual car ownership may even decline in favor of neighborhood cars.

Consumers and Regulators Should Play a Role in Emissions Reductions

Regulations on ride-hailing apps could be vital to preventing excess emissions. If ride-hailing services were required or incentivized to use fuel-efficient and electric fleets, emissions could be dramatically reduced.

Furthermore, consumer trends play a big role in the environmental impact of autonomous vehicles. If many individuals opt for neighborhood cars, carpooling, or ride-sharing services, autonomous vehicles could actually reduce the number of cars on the road.

Regardless of their environmental impact, autonomous cars are the future. From an economic and safety perspective, the transition is inevitable. It’s up to governments, industry leaders, and individuals to ensure that autonomous cars reduce overall emissions.

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Transportation

Elon Musk Announces The Tesla Cybertruck: What We Know So Far

Steven Li

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Just yesterday, Elon Musk announced the new Tesla Cybertruck. And it has already gotten quite a bit of attention. Beginning production in 2021, having a starting price of just over $39,000, being able to go 500 miles on a single full charge, and having an entirely different design compared to all other Tesla vehicles, the truck is a beast of its own.

What To Expect From The Tesla Cybertruck

In Tesla’s marketing materials, it describes the Cybertruck as one that “has better utility than a truck with more performance than a sports car”.

It has a robust exoskeleton, which the company has designed to optimize for the truck’s durability. On the exterior of the Tesla Cybertruck, the company has chosen to leverage stainless steel to protest against dents.

The exterior of the Tesla Cybertruck.
The exterior of the Tesla Cybertruck. Image Credit: Tesla

The truck also has a 3,500-pound payload capacity and can tow a whopping 14,000 pounds, according to Tesla.

Even still, the truck can go from zero to 60 miles-per-hour is just 2.9 seconds.

Towing Capacity
The Cybertruck can tow over 14,000 pounds. Image Credit: Tesla

It, like other models, also comes with a premium option to include software for self-driving capabilities.

Competition And Implications

But the market won’t be easy to take. So far, the Rivian R1T and the (EV) Ford F Series have projections to both beat Tesla to market. Though in comparison, the R1T goes for about $30,000 more than the Tesla Cybertruck.

And on the other hand, the Ford F Series starts at a price point about $10,000 lower than the pickup truck; currently, it is still gas-powered. And like Elon has said in the past, the Cybertruck indeed has the F-Series beat.

Considering the current Cybertruck prototype, some experts believe consumers will favor Rivian or Ford due to their less polarizing designs. Here’s what they look like:

Rivian's R1T
Rivian’s R1T
Ford's F-Series
Ford’s F-Series

But considering its incredible specs, especially at its price point, the Tesla Cybertruck will be a force to be reckoned with. Rivian projects to launch its R1T by the end of 2020, reaching the market before Tesla by just a few months.

The race is on.

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Business

The Latest Tesla Sustainability Initiative: Patenting Sustainable Car Seat Foam

Maryanne Derkaloustian

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Tesla sustainability

Tesla vehicles are some of the most environmentally-friendly, but the company just showed more sustainability promise with a new seat patent. Though the company launched cruelty-free seats in 2017, the patent underscores its continued commitment. Today’s cars are way ahead of their predecessors in terms of energy usage and emissions. This, however, makes it easier for companies to neglect other factors.

The Problem With Traditional Seats

Polyurethanes typically make up the base of the common car seat. Looking into replacements is only necessary, since in this case, they are neither recyclable nor breathable.

Other varieties are also used in bumpers, doors, windows, spoilers, and other parts, so getting rid of it could be a long process.

Making the foam itself, though, is a tedious, time-consuming process, which entails pouring and mixing a whole cocktail of chemicals.

Shaping the material after that produces a lot of non-recyclable leftovers that have nowhere to go but landfills.

Tesla Sustainability Push Includes Patented Sustainable Fibrous Foam

While the star of this patent is the “architecture” of the foam, it is important to remember the materials involved.

The Tesla sustainability push entails a choice of low-melt polymers that are easier to repurpose for future use.

And although the processing methods it plans to adopt may require more attention to detail, Tesla can reduce a significant amount of manufacturing waste.

Ultimately, the company aims to use this technology in other “foamy” car parts. Consequently, that will help minimize even more non-recyclable waste.

Summary

It is especially important for a company like Tesla to switch gears like this. While other companies like Ford are nearing their zero-waste goals, 40% of Tesla’s raw materials still go straight to landfills.

However, the two companies switch places when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions. With mixed information available to the general public, it can be hard to tell how sustainable companies actually are.

Companies should keep all of this in mind. Because in the end, their every move leaves a mark on the planet.

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GreenTech

Hyundai launches car with a solar charging system in a push for sustainability

Steven Li

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Image Credit: Hyundai

Just Friday, Hyundai announced the launch of its first car with a solar roof charging system, which would be first introduced to the newest Sonata Hybrid. Promising to roll out the technology to other cars in the future, the company’s move is its first of many.

Fundamentally, introducing the solar roof should help improve fuel efficiency, boost electric power, and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. According to the company’s announcement, its silicon panels would allow for between 30 and 60 percent of the car’s battery to be charged through solar.

The impact? Apparently, six hours of daily charging could add over extra 800 miles to the car’s travel distance. To the consumer, that means convenience and saving a whole lot on gasoline.

For now, Hyundai is looking to have its solar roof play a supporting role in powering its cars. Its long term goal is to make powering cars with fossil fuels an obsolete concept, the company alludes. Its new Sonata Hybrid is a small step in the right direction.

Because the Sonata Hybrid does still run partially on gasoline, it does still emit the same greenhouse gases as conventional passenger vehicles. However, it is (and will be) far more fuel-efficient. On average, hybrid cars emit greenhouse gases in a quantity of over 30% less compared to their gasoline-run counterparts.

But the debate over whether electricity is actually cleaner than gasoline still remains. Currently, over 45% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal-powered plants. Hyundai is going in the right direction, but still, there are many challenges ahead.

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