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OM in the News: Sensors and Sustainability–A New Look at Autos

September 23, 2015

google carCheap, powerful, microscopic sensors are ubiquitously entering the $2 trillion automotive industry, reports (Sept. 21, 2015). It’s a big, inefficient, wasteful and dangerous industry. Here’s how the annual numbers stack up for the U.S.:

  • 33,000 lives are lost and a million injuries.
  • $230 billion of accident cost in the U.S. –about 2-3% of GDP.
  • 50 billion hours (or 1 trillion dollars) of people’s time–around 8% of GDP.
  • 50 billion gallons of imported gasoline (12-15% of the USA’s CO2 emissions).

Autonomous cars appear to be coming fast. Google is leading the way, but Apple, Tesla, Uber and every major car company is following. Today, Google’s self-driving cars have driven far more than 1.5 million miles, safely and fully autonomously. Google’s car are made possible because of their suite of sensors. One in particular is a 64-beam Velodyne LIDAR sensor (Laser Imaging Radar) that, combined with cameras, sonar and GPS, is collecting and analyzing 750 Mb of data per second. The car knows everything that’s happening within 100 meters of the sensor.

The impact: In 20 years there will be more than 54 million autonomous cars on the road, meaning:

  • Saved Lives: Autonomous cars don’t drive drunk, don’t text and don’t fall asleep at the wheel.
  • Reclaiming Land: You can fit 8 times more autonomous cars on our roads. Today, in the U.S. we devote over 10% of the urban land to parking spaces and to our paved highways and roads.
  • Saved Energy: Today we give close to 25% of all of our energy to personal transportation, and 25% of our greenhouse gases are going to the car. If cars don’t crash, you don’t need a 5,000-lb SUV driving around a 100-lb passenger.
  • Saved Money/Higher Productivity: Trading out 4,000-lb. cars for lighter electric cars that don’t crash will save 90% on a person’s automotive transportation bill–plus regain 1- 2 hours of daily productivity, reclaiming hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. economy.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. In what other ways are sensors revolutionizing operations management?
  2. What are the downsides of autonomous cars?
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