Autonomous vehicles will be here soon. What about the environmental consequences?

Autonomous vehicles have a long history in Pittsburgh, starting with Carnegie Mellon University’s winning team in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. Since then, several companies in the sector have built their headquarters here, continually bringing jobs, wealth and engineering prowess to the area. Pittsburgh, for its part, has welcomed the new technology, starting with Mayor Bill Peduto’s early work in allowing Uber to test its initial fleet of autonomous cars.

While a full commercial launch of the technology is still yet to come, recent announcements from two area companies indicate that momentum is building. But for all of the new convenience and efficiency these cars might offer, their environmental advantages are somewhat more nuanced than those of electric vehicles, leaving some to wonder how they will operate in a world that is de-emphasizing the trend of automobile transportation in the name of climate change.

The main environmental benefit that autonomous vehicles offer is their efficiency: “Autonomous vehicles, in general, operate more optimally,” Neil Donahue, the director of CMU’s Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research told “They’re less lead-footy.”