While companies are striving to adapt to the recent changes in policies and social responsibilities to curb global warming, some have been conceived with the intention of solving them. In the US, tremendous efforts are being made in the green or sustainable energy production. And rightfully so- electricity is the biggest contributing factor to its CO2 emissions, and transport comes in second at 26% in 2014 (Figure 1). Moreover, although the major cause of carbon emissions around the world vary by their primary economic activities, transportation has been a recurring theme, especially in urban settings globally.
In response to the statistics, old and new transportation companies have been innovating to make transport more efficient. Pioneers such as Google and Tesla have created the wave of innovation in electric driverless cars, together with the trend of AI and machine learning, among many other efforts.
Making transport more efficient gives exciting possibilities in variations of the shape and sizes of our current vehicles. Ideally, transport in the future will be efficient in its power source, weight, and route. A study by researchers at the University of Leeds in the UK, University of Washington in Seattle, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory showed that innovations in transportation, including lighter vehicles and reducing aerodynamic pressure by making cars moving closely to each other, can reduce global carbon emission up 23 and 25 percent respectively1.
As important as the lithium batteries and sleek designs of new electric cars, one of the companies that focuses on the algorithm of driverless cars is NuTonomy. The start-up is a spin off from MIT that tackles urban driving, one of the most complicated aspect of the technology, yet impactful. Recently, they have just announced a partnership with Grab, Uber’s competitor in Asia to test their driverless vehicles2.
NuTonomy is an important puzzle piece in the effort to make transport efficient. A study in Nature Climate Change in 2015 published an article whereby emissions per mile from personal use cars could be reduced as much as 94% in 2030 in a “best-case scenario” of electric driverless taxis2. Autonomous taxis also make the most impact when combined with ride sharing. The study highlights with the increasing demand of travel, making efficient spending of energy in travel is ever more important. With the rate of innovation driven by Tesla and Google, Autonomous Taxis may be a reality in as soon as 2025.
The company was founded in 2013 by Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli during their research in robotics and intelligent vehicle technology at MIT. The duo soon is joined by Doug Parker as COO. So far, NuTonomy has raised $20M from the Singapore Economic Development Board, and a Venture Capital firm backed by Ford and another by Samsung. NuTonomy’s collaboration with the Singaporean government makes sense- with its limited land and workforce, the government is always pushing residents to use more public or shared modes of transport. Its partnership with Grab is strategic because it can offer transportation needs in far-flung areas5.
NuTonomy’s first-ever public trial is a bold testimony of their advanced software. To gear up towards their full vehicle fleet in 2018, these public relations stunts, as well as funding (they have just raised about $16M to complete trials), are essential to their eventual adoption by transportation providers. Just this year, Uber acquired Otto, a self-driving trucks start up, and partnered with Volvo Car Group to develop fully driverless cars5.
The adaptation of self-driving cars faces a lot of challenges. NuTonomy is smart- its partnership with the Singaporean government to push regulations to allow for these trials is a major asset for its growth in the region. Globally, debates surrounding actions to be taken in near-accident situations also increases the barrier for adapting these technologies fully; being aware of these progression in laws is important for NuTonomy’s success.
Nowadays, as you go around walking One North, the innovation hub of Singapore, a NuTonomy car whizzes by, and it will seem completely normal because of its juxtaposition against the buildings’ geeky names and the modern design of urban planning. But soon, if the trials go well, these algorithms may well replace steering wheels of Grab cars.
NuTonomy, like companies taking a stand to fight global warming, isn’t saying there is a silver bullet to solving transportation issues, similar to how transport is one of many efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Many other efforts by large auto-manufacturing companies as well as start-ups show that global warming is a call to action to increase efficiency in everything we do using technology. And as such, driverless cars, together with other approaches in new car design, is one of the necessary technological breakthroughs to enable a greener future.
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- Greenblatt, Jeffery B., and Samveg Saxena. “Autonomous Taxis Could Greatly Reduce Greenhouse-gas Emissions of US Light-dutyÂ vehicles.” Nature Climate Change Nature Climate Change9 (2015): 860-63. Web. 4 Nov. 2016.