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)

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."