CO2 emissions reduction and the ways Darwin will help

It’s worth giving some thought to the routes we take when we’re driving. Navigation systems will usually recommend the quickest route to your destination, and you might expect the quickest route to produce the least carbon dioxide. After all, if you’re on the road for less time, aren’t you using less fuel?

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

In the spring of 2020, Neste, HERE technologies, PTV Group and VTT collaborated on a small experiment in the Helsinki area to see whether navigation systems recommended the ‘most CO2-friendly route’. The gist of the experiment was this:

  • A car took three different routes from point A to point B: the route suggested by the navigation system, and two other routes.
  • The car repeated the journeys to make sure the results were accurate, as, for example, unusually heavy traffic on one route could throw off the results.
  • The experiment was done 13 times with different starting points and destinations, each time driving three different routes from point A to point B (so 39 routes were driven in total).
  • The Finnish technical research centre VTT analysed the data from each journey.

In a third of the cases, the navigation system’s recommended route wasn’t the most environmentally friendly. The most fuel-efficient route tended to be the shortest, which wasn’t necessarily the fastest. You can find Neste’s writeup here.

You might have caught that 13 isn’t a large sample size, and it’s hard to draw firm conclusions from small experiments. Still, it’s interesting that such a large proportion of the recommended routes weren’t the most fuel-efficient even in a small sample. There’s clearly room for more work to be done on finding the most environmentally friendly driving routes possible, and that’s one of the areas Darwin is interested in.

The Darwin SatCom Lab has been experimenting with using LiDAR sensors to track the carbon dioxide output of its connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs). By switching seamlessly between satellite and 5G, Darwin can remain constantly connected to its vehicles and receive data on the carbon footprint of the fleet in real time. O2, which aims to become net zero carbon by 2025, is supporting this research.

Gathering clear, accurate information on the fuel efficiency of routes is essential if we want to train navigation systems to cut down on CO2 emissions. A human driver can choose to take a more environmentally friendly route than the one that navigation software recommends, but it’s obviously harder for a fully autonomous vehicle to overrule the recommended route. If navigation software is provided with information about emissions, and if it’s taught to value the environment as well as speed, it’ll result in lower CO2 emissions for both human drivers and CAVs.

Darwin’s ability to track carbon dioxide emissions is something delivery companies can also make use of. We can measure the emissions of all the vehicles in a fleet based on the vehicle’s age, the weight of the load, the type of fuel and so on. We’ll also look at the satellite imagery of the route each vehicle takes, so we can put the data in context and take, for example, carbon capture from trees into account. With all this knowledge, we can give informed advice on how the fleet can reduce its carbon footprint.

In some cases, it may be possible to replace a diesel or petrol fleet with electric vehicles, based on the availability of charging points. We can give advice on that as well.

In the fight against climate change, the changes that individuals or companies make can add up to make a real difference. We want to help identify and make those changes.

Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based R&D company focusing on autonomous vehicles and communications, both terrestrial and satellite. If you’d like to keep up with our articles, you can follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page.

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