It was pretty hard to escape the news of the UN climate change report recently. Plastered across the front pages of every newspaper in Europe, the damning headline: "A code red for humanity" brought a stark reminder of the need to drastically cut carbon emissions to the forefront of everybody's mind.
The automotive industry is one that can contribute greatly to reducing climate change. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a typical car emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.
Globally, that equates to about 7.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Moreover, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists in the U.S., transportation accounts for more than half of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide pollutants emitted into the atmosphere.
There is work that the automotive industry needs to do to improve these statistics. Great strides are being made toward offering electric vehicles, which are becoming more and more financially affordable and convenient to operate.
Sales of electric cars topped 2.1 million globally in 2019, surpassing 2018 to boost the stock to 7.2 million electric cars, resulting in a 40 percent year-on-year increase in sales.
Electric vehicles are great, but there are other ways in which we can revolutionize the transport world for the better of the environment.
One way is by investing in autonomous vehicles.
AVs pave the way for more efficient travel -- from private cars to public transport.
AVs have the potential to fix a major modern transportation issue -- traffic jams.
The time cars spend stuck in gridlock could be drastically reduced thanks to deliberative architecture software that allows AVs to detect delays and other obstructions in advance. Once AVs are interconnected and able to communicate with one another, infrastructure such as traffic lights could become obsolete, improving efficiency further.
AVs have been talked about for years, but now the technology world has made great strides with two technologies that will pave the way for autonomous driving once and for all -- edge processing and 5G.
Processing data at the edge
Edge processing is essential if AVs are to become a reality. Vehicles need to be able to make near-instant decisions based on everything that is happening around them, such as traffic levels and road hazards.
For example, if someone steps out into the road in front of a car, that car needs to be able to stop immediately. By processing data at the edge, machines make faster decisions more reliably than if the cloud were handling the processing, because it doesn't suffer issues of latency, connectivity and bandwidth.
Many technologies enable edge processing.
At a basic level, camera, radar and other sensors need to work together for features such as driver assistance and autonomous emergency braking.
At a more advanced level, high-performing memory capabilities, including advanced DRAM (dynamic random access memory) and high-density storage need to be embedded within vehicle systems to empower functionality such as fusion, vision computing and high-definition maps.
The good news is that all of these technologies are readily available now.
5G essential for AVs
The other half of the battle is connectivity. If the world is to get to a point where gridlock traffic no longer exists (and therefore we cut carbon emissions), 5G has a vital role to play.
5G will be the way that smart cities communicate with vehicles and vice versa, helping to improve all sorts of travel pain points, such as re-routing vehicles around traffic, giving priority right of way to emergency service vehicles and adapting driving style to weather conditions.
All these benefits will help improve the efficiency of every journey, eliminating the need for continual braking and accelerating, helping to drive down carbon emissions.
Currently, 5G technology is being rolled out across the world, and with the help of advanced telematics control units, can link to onboard electronics systems to provide essential, real-time information to drivers in a range of situations.
Some of the key capabilities include downloading high-resolution HD maps in real-time and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) systems to deliver information to passengers.
Of course, like with battery-powered vehicles, AVs aren't going to appear overnight. Some manufacturers claim they are close to Level 5 automation, in which the car can drive under any condition. But the issue of automation cannot be left to manufacturers alone.
Governments must provide adequate regulatory frameworks and continue to invest in smart city technology including 5G to connect vehicles of the future together.
The UK government, for example, claims self-driving vehicles will be worth nearly 42 billion pounds ($57.8 billion) by 2035, which is good news, but ideally that date needs to be brought forward given the gravity of the UN report.
It's not going to be easy, but we have got to move quickly for the sake of our planet.