Autonomous vehicle research and development is hot, hot, hot. Google’s self-driving cars are on the streets already, Uber is laying the groundwork, and Tesla’s upcoming update for the Model S will include some ‘self-steering’ features as well. We’ve joked about the idea of self-driving taxi cabs, but researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are taking the concept quite seriously. A new study shows that greenhouse gas emissions from cars in the United States could be slashed by 94 percent in 2030 if battery-powered electric “robocabs” are allowed on the roads.

Hailing a driverless cab probably strikes most people as a far-fetched notion, still the stuff of science fiction movies or, at best, something our children’s children might get to experience. Yet, the research from Lawrence Berkeley suggests such technology should be introduced sooner rather than later. In an effort to determine new and interesting ways to get climate change under control, the research team compared four different types of vehicles, including traditional internal combustion engines, hybrid-electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and battery-powered electric vehicles. Based on estimated annual mileage for 2030 and other factors, the team modeled their ideal vehicle concept on the all-electric Nissan Leaf. The study assumed that electric cars such as these driverless taxis will be powered from the grid, which, by 2030, will use a higher percentage of renewable energy than it currently does.

Related: Nissan’s next-generation Leaf will be able to drive over 310 miles on a single charge

The tricky part about researching greener transportation options is that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have to be pretty significant in order to make a difference and to make the new technology worth the investment. The research team looked at a variety of ways to cut transportation emissions and while advocating for electric cars is a clear win, it’s not enough. The Nissan Leaf is a small vehicle, but the research team believes automakers should make drastic changes in order to produce cleaner cars, proposing a Leaf-like car that is 40 percent as wide, with room for just one passenger. After all, 62 percent of car trips in the U.S. hit the road with just one person in the vehicle, often in a car that seats up to 5 people in total. Removing the human driver from a taxi cab and relying on autonomous vehicle technology makes all those urban cab rides that much more efficient.

+ Read the study in Nature Climate Change

Via The Guardian

Images via Roy Kaltschmidt for Berkeley Lab