Last modified on November 10, 2023

How sustainable is Connected, Cooperative and Automated Mobility?

7 November 2023

Connected, cooperative and automated mobility (CCAM) sets the stage for a transformative shift in mobility paradigms, extending its impact from technological realms to social aspects and the practicalities of large-scale deployment. Priorities are usually set around safety, user acceptance and inclusiveness. However, sustainability implications are of increasing relevance also in the transport sector, making it a critical pillar in the evolution of future transport systems. While a holistic approach is indispensable, the sustainability discourse of CCAM touches diverse dimensions such as the vehicle, traffic and broader transport system, necessitating comprehensive discussions that go beyond transportation alone.

Dr Carolin Zachäus

At the vehicle level, the sustainability narrative goes along the entire value chain. The potential utilisation of carbon-intense raw materials and an escalation in energy and resource requisites for the manufacturing of connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) are driven by sophisticated sensors, electronics, and computing systems. This technological shift, while promising, presents challenges in terms of material sourcing and recycling. Furthermore, lively discussions emerged around the operational energy consumption of CAV. Due to an additional workload for perception, localisation, planning, and control, CAVs require amplified computing power compared to conventional vehicles. This might result in a significant increase in energy consumption and emissions accordingly1. However, CCAM also promises a drop in energy consumption per vehicle mile through energy-efficient driving strategies and further advancements in technology and the respective energy efficiency2.

Looking at the traffic system, CCAM is envisioned as catalysts for intelligent traffic management. The introduction of CCAM holds promise in the realm of real-time data gathering and analytics, which can be instrumental in dynamic traffic management, enhancing traffic flow and reducing congestion, thereby diminishing fuel consumption and emissions significantly. The safety benefits of CCAM contribute to reduced accident rates and consequently to smoother traffic flow, leading to a positive consequential impact on resource and energy consumption as well as emissions, which further underscores the multifaceted benefits of CCAM especially in urban settings.

The narrative broadens at the transport system level, where the impact of CCAM exceeds emissions, expanding to land, water, noise, and light pollution3. This holistic view underscores the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to understand positive as well as negative implications and define respective mitigation strategies. Exploiting synergies between CCAM technology and vehicle electrification implies improvements in energy efficiency and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Additional integration with shared mobility solutions, coupled with a seamless interaction with public transport will reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, offering novel prospects for sustainable urban planning and sustainable mobility alternatives for society, thus aligning CCAM initiatives with broader urban sustainability goals.

Sustainability emerges as a pre-requisite also in the world of CCAM. Research along the whole life cycle, addressing all the above-mentioned dimensions, are necessary to generate a holistic insight into the environmental impact of CCAM and unravel its full sustainability potential. Acknowledging this, the future of funding opportunities in CCAM research is broad and necessitates a deeper focus on its long-term sustainability implications. Joint initiatives between the CCAM partnership, the 2Zero partnership, and the KDT JU (Chips JU) could be instrumental in this regard. Developing common calls for research proposals would streamline the funding process, encourage interdisciplinary cooperation, and ensure a balanced exploration of the environmental, economic, and social aspects of CCAM sustainability. This collaborative approach is essential to generate holistic insights into the environmental impacts of CCAM, verifying previous findings, identifying areas of concern such as increased computational power requirements, and fostering innovations in e.g. energy-efficient hardware and algorithmic efficiency. Ultimately, it is through these concerted research efforts and funding strategies, that CCAM’s full potential can be used to contribute positively to global sustainability goals and pioneer a path for a more sustainable future, embodying a harmonised progress between technological advancements and sustainability prerogatives.

Written by Dr. Carolin Zachäus, Scientific Consultant at VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH

1 S. Sudhakar, V. Sze and S. Karaman, “Data Centers on Wheels: Emissions From Computing Onboard Autonomous Vehicles,” in IEEE Micro 2023, 43 (1), 29-39

2 M. Taiebat et al., “A Review on Energy, Environmental, and Sustainability Implications of Connected and Automated Vehicles” in Environmental Science & Technology 2018, 52 (20), 11449-11465

3 Ó. Silva et al., “Environmental impacts of autonomous vehicles: A review of the scientific literature” in Science of The Total Environment 2022, 830, 154615