Synthesis blog - imagining what the future landscape in a world of self-driving cars would look like.
Alphabet’s Waymo is already on the streets. It’s important to note that they have not yet begun public usage. In other terms, nobody outside of the Waymo bubble has had the chance to be chauffeured around by the first legitimately driverless cars on the road. Waymo plans to roll out the service to the entire Phoenix area, but is currently confined to small parts of the city. According to Ars Techinica, Waymo is planning on replicating this roll-out style in the rest of the country when they have a large enough fleet of cars. The success of this operation is critical to the public’s perception of self-driving cars. This is the first time that regular people will be piloted in cars with no human at the steering wheel.
AVs might make commutes much easier, but they might also make commutes much longer. Increased suburban sprawl is a serious concern, but luckily urban planners are already thinking of potential solutions.
AVs are already being used as public transit in some areas. There are still issues to iron out, but the AVs are going slow enough to be extremely safe for pedestrians. Might pedestrians take advantage of AV safety features and eventually take over roads?
AVs are programed to ignore speed limits, but should they be? Should it depend on context?
AVs have trouble identifying bikes, which poses serious problems for safety. One possible solution is to dedicate more road space to bikes, but that might be hard to do in our (autonomous) car-addicted culture.
The most problematic use case for AVs to interact with manual cars is in cities, and the most problematic situation within cities is the intersection. Priority signals are already being used to expedite rapid transit, and the same idea can be applied to self-driving cars. Because AVs have the capability to move faster and still operate safely, as well as to communicate with other vehicles and the infrastructure around them to synchronize movements, priority signals can minimize the number of conflicts between AVs and the rest of vehicles and also help reduce traffic.
Highway driving is an already established use case for autonomous driving. The full benefits, however, can only be attained when the interference of manual-driven cars are removed from the scenario. Dedicating an AV lane on highways would be a cost-effective measure to modify infrastructure to cope with the transition period to full autonomy, as well as provide much-needed improvements in traffic.
Highway driving is a very constrained use case, which has allowed successful testing of autonomous technologies such as Tesla's Autopilot with little problem. But, cities pose unique challenges for AVs to cope with, and one of the largest challenge is the permanent presence of pedestrians. Safety of everyone should obviously be paramount, but just where the compromise lies between pedestrian and AV-rider convenience within cities is still to be determined.
The reality remains that most cities will have to slowly adapt to accommodate self-driving cars. But, it is interesting to consider the cases where entirely new urban developments place no restrictions on infrastructure development. This provides insight into what the "ideal" self-driving city would be, and what our current cities could aspire to.
Infrastructure change tends to be thought of in terms of new structures and redesigning existing structures, but the adoption of autonomous vehicles will also allow the elimination of many traditional features of infrastructure. The home garage, public parking facilities, mechanic shops, traffic lights, gas stations, and even road signs could be potentially eliminated. The disappearance of these institutions might be unsettling at first, but soon they just might be mentioned in history books.
Every day seems to offer a new vision of autonomous vehicle infrastructure. It can be confusing enough for industry professionals to make sense of it all, much less the politicians that will be making decisions on it. The current state of our infrastructure is terrible, which provides the opportunity to design improvements with self-driving cars in mind in order to prepare for the future.
Although ownership is on the rise, people are beginning to use car sharing services more and more in order to supplement traditional sorts of transportation like busses and personal cars. There have been numerous studies about the cost of transportation and all signs point towards the fact that ride sharing is increasingly becoming the most efficient and economic form of transportation. So the question is, will city owned public transportation be a common occurrence in the future? I believe that cities will stray away from traditional public transportation and be forced to either privatize it or create newer and more efficient ways to provide public transportation that can compete with ride sharing.
Nearly every autonomous vehicle company is currently looking at how to augment existing cars and public transportation to perform as autonomous vehicles. In order to fully utilize the benefits of AV’s we need to think about completely new ways to do public transportation. A few companies have begun to look into new types of busses made up of individual pods that will fuse the idea of ride sharing and busses into a new and incredibly efficient form of transport. China is also looking into ways to expand AV’s above the roads in order to utilize vertical space as well as horizontal space.
Cars were not always the dominant mode of transportation on streets – it used to be pedestrians. As cars became increasingly deadly for pedestrians, people wanted to place limits on drivers. Drivers and car manufacturers pushed back, and successfully victim-blamed and criminalized pedestrian actions.