Impact on Urban Life

The future of our planet: Driverless cars and their impact on urban life

As we count down the days to the MCAV ‘future of transport’ event, we have been imagining how our future will be different once the driverless revolution hits our streets. Starting with our roads, and how we transport from A to B, our imaginations and discussions developed quickly, and we soon realised how huge driverless technology could become! The very infrastructure of our planet is set to change exponentially, and our cities look like they will be affected the most. Carrying out research has helped us to develop our imaginations further. This article discusses some of the suggested reformations many cities will undertake, beginning with parking.

It has been estimated that – on average – 106 days of our lives are wasted by parking. This is nearly a third of a year – what a monumental waste of time! Getting this time back makes anything possible. You could write a book, watch more sport, get yourself fit, work more hours (thereby earning more cash) pretty much anything can be done with an extra 106 days! Not only do we waste time parking, but – when we consider the amount of money and stress caused by parking (including accidents) – we will save both money and energy when the driverless revolution arrives.

When driverless vehicles are parking for us, the technology should allow them to park in much tighter spaces than us clumsy humans! In theory, no doors will need to be opened when they park as no one will need to get in / out while they are in their car parks (as they will hopefully deliver us door to door). It has been estimated that in 15 years, up to 90% of current parking spaces will be eliminated – this will free up masses of room!

Not only will car parks become smaller, but driverless cars should also bring about the end of roadside parking. This could make our pavements wider, and allow space for potential environmental improvements such as growing trees or plants. Furthermore, the amount of stress and disagreements caused by roadside parking within many communities will be hugely reduced. Limiting the opportunities we have to fall out with our neighbours, can only be a positive thing. And when driverless cars pick up more than one passenger at a time, we also have the opportunity to get to know our neighbours even better!

When the driverless vehicle drops us off and does not have any new orders to pick customers up, the technology they are programmed with should enable the car to find the best and most efficient parking spot. In synergy with other driverless cars in the city, they could access knowledge relating to car park conditions, including which ones are full. What might then happen, is that the autonomous car is able to reserve a place where one exists, before travelling to the relevant location. At present, we can only speculate regarding how the cars will operate, but this is one potential way forward.

And when they have parked, efficient ways of preparing them for their next journey should come into play. It is looking likely that they will automatically ‘plug in’ to charging facilities, giving them the power they need to collect their next customers. Furthermore, it has been suggested that robots will carry out maintenance for the car, cleaning and checking wheels, etc, before they leave the car park.

Imagining hundreds of cars and robots working together is quite a futuristic concept! However, if this is successful, it removes the necessity for humans to be present in the car parks. There will, therefore, be less need for stairs and escalators. While we consider the functionality of car parks, it is also worth reflecting on where these car parks would be. If we are looking to free up huge areas of cities, it would make sense for these car parks to be operating underground. This would produce huge expanses of land that could be used to ease environmental concerns. Planting trees and having more green land would be our preference, but the options for this space are endless! Perhaps new shopping malls or housing could be created? The very appearance and infrastructure of our cities could change radically.

This change will have a knock-on effect on our town planning departments, and the city’s relationship with its suburbs could influence how cities are re-designed. Driverless vehicles would not make long-distance travel so much of an issue, and workers could commute more freely from suburbs, to work in the cities. Relationships between citizens of the cities, and the suburbs could improve, and more people would find it easier to find employment. Employers would have a greater chance to find people suited to jobs – our economy would be given a boost!

Furthermore, the value of houses in the suburbs would rise (or urban prices decline) as location is not so vital for work. Not only might house values change, but more space will be freed up by garages as parking and all of the expenses that go with privately owned vehicles will disappear!

One of these expenses – petrol – will also be substantially affected. Without the need for petrol, there would be no need for petrol stations. Once more, this will create extra space for cities – not to mention the reduction in pollution that this will bring.

Pollution in cities will be reduced substantially, and autonomous cars should be able to drive a lot more efficiently than humans. As they respond to each other, driverless cars should be able to drive closer together, meaning smaller driving lanes – creating more space on pavements.

The list of changes driverless cars would bring to our planet is astounding. It is incredible to think how much of our cities are based around transport and the modern day manual car. Autonomous vehicles present a real-life solution to many of the world’s problems, and could completely re-design the way we use our cities. Further discussion will take place at the MCAV event on the 27th June. If you are interested in attending – or being a sponsor – please contact us as soon as possible.


By Neil Phipps

Photo by spatz_2011


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