Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand

Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand

The energy implications of automated and smart freight mobility

It is widely believed that autonomous vehicles (also known as driverless cars), offer significant opportunities to reduce energy demand and increase efficiency as part of a wider shift towards smart cities and smart transport. In fact, the extent to which autonomous vehicles can radically transform existing mobility systems has recently been hyped by industry, policy-makers and the media.

Reducing the energy demand for freight transport is arguably more complex than for passenger transport. The growth in goods delivery is intertwined with changes to the socio-technical systems within which freight transport is entangled. For instance, e-shopping is shifting energy demand from private vehicles to freight delivery vehicles. This shift has replaced one means of transport – private vehicles – with another – such as freight vehicles (with the exception of cargo-cycles for low-volume and weight items).

This means that if the freight delivery industry wants to reduce energy demand, it is heavily reliant on vehicle efficiency gains, fuel technologies and logistical improvements (such as urban distribution centres), and the opportunities for systemic change across this suite of innovations to do so.

autonomous pod widerAutonomous vehicle on display at a demonstration project funded by the British government
(Image by Tim Schwanen)

Project aims

This project examines how energy demand reduction is understood by the freight industry, focusing on the potential contributions by innovations such as autonomous vehicles and other smart technologies in the smart city. It concentrates on the freight industry’s views and expectations regarding low-energy technological innovations by analysing how autonomous vehicles and related technologies are framed and understood by the media and various stakeholders in the freight industry.

The two main research questions to be answered by this research are:

  1. How are autonomous vehicles and other smart mobility innovations, freight mobility and energy demand likely to mutually influence each other?
  2. How are automated vehicles and other smart mobility technologies discussed, framed and legitimised in the context of urban and inter-urban freight mobility?

This project uses qualitative research methods which include document analysis of freight industry and mass media articles, coupled with focus groups, interviews and workshops with supply-side freight industry actors and stakeholders including industry representative organisations, freight managers, and local councils.