“We’ve created an entire culture and economy based on the notion that transportation is cheap."

In recent years, when a promising new technology comes along in the automotive world, Toyota – true to its conservative nature -- has a habit of taking a more measured approach instead of jumping in with both feet. When vehicle manufacturers started moving towards Li-ion batteries for their hybrids, Toyota threw a wet blanket on the efforts and stuck to NiMH battery chemistry.
Toyota’s strategy has for the most part worked, as its hybrids using “inferior” NiMH battery chemistry have had no troubling trouncing newer competition with Li-ion battery packs.
And while many manufactures are currently looking towards all-electric vehicles as the “next logical step” in automotive transportation, Toyota is instead forging ahead with hydrogen fuel cell power – a technology that it has been finessing for years and sees as a superior option.
Now, with auto manufacturers and technology companies — like Google — looking to embrace autonomous vehicles in the near future, one Toyota researcher is pointing us to the downsides of such a move. Ken Laberteaux, Sr. Principal Research Scientist at Toyota Research Institute-North America, explained this week at the Automated Vehicles Symposium that autonomous vehicles could actually lead to increased pollution and fuel use.

Toyota's Ken Laberteaux
According to Laberteaux, the primary reason for the increases are due to urban sprawl. If a driver doesn’t have to deal with the everyday monotony of plodding through bumper-to-bumper traffic or stare at the white lines separating lanes on the highway, that he or she would be more likely to live further away from city centers or their workplace.
“U.S. history shows that anytime you make driving easier, there seems to be this inexhaustible desire to live further from things,” said Laberteaux. “The pattern we’ve seen for a century is people turn more speed into more travel, rather than maybe saying ‘I’m going to use my reduced travel time by spending more time with my family.’”

Google's autonomous vehicle prototype
Toyota’s corporate philosophy is to provide plenty of driver aids (i.e., blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control systems, lane departure warnings, etc.) versus taking full control of a vehicle.
While Toyota and Laberteaux are concerned that autonomous vehicles will cause us to become even bigger consumers of resources, the FBI is more concerned that the vehicles could be turned into rolling weapons platforms.
However, one thing that almost everyone can agree on is that autonomous vehicles along with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology would help to reduce traffic accidents and deaths on American roads.

Source: Bloomberg

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