Autonomous Vehicles Will Be Driven By Data

The pace of technology adoption has never been faster, which is why we are seeing reports about the new features of autonomous driving introduced by car manufacturers. The policy implications from a land use and development standpoint are significant. Before you scoff at the idea of how driverless cars will change anything, consider this: legislators rushed to enact laws against distracted driving not because of CB-radios, DVD-players or the proliferation of drive-thru coffee accidents. It was the insurance industry demonstrating the link between auto accidents and mobile phone usage in cars. We are inundated with the message to stop texting and driving. Yet today’s cars are being sold as mobile entertainment.

Short Term5 years from now. The sensors and data expected in the cockpit of new cars will rapidly change the way a driver interacts with their car. For one, the adoption of GPS navigation with a comprehensive directly of services will extend beyond simple traffic updates, to where an empty parking spot is available. Today, Google (amongst many) can reroute a turn-by-turn navigation instantaneously to avoid traffic jams caused by accidents or road closures. The AI managing all this is possible because of algorithms that are reading data off mobile phones. IoT will exponentially increase that data.

Medium Term10 years from now. The technology of parking-assist or self-parking cars is here today, but for this to be a game changer, the way in which people expect to park cars will need to adapt. The need for drop off zones and data-aware parking lots will be the first step towards the point in which a person can drive their car to the entrance of a building, and then send the car on its way to park itself.

The need for on-site parking or parking areas that require enough space between cars for people and doors will change. Parking cars are freed from having to be onsite, and offsite parking can be more compact. The walk-time from parking lots to entrances will be non-existent, but the need to queue cars for pick-ups and drops offs will be a new challenge. Cars will also be stored in automated parking garages that can accommodate more cars in less space.

Long Term15-20 years from now. The idea of car ownership will have changed to accommodate the technology that enables a car to act more like a driverless personal taxi service. Instead of needing to be parked, a car could serve multiple people in a household by providing on-demand trips. The generations already, predisposed against car ownership may embrace the extension of time-share ownership of their personal transportation device, or a service that would provide a car on demand when they need it. As Uber and Lyft change the notion of taxi service, the shared and always-connected economy will sprout new business models that the car industry will have no choice but to adapt.

Policy Considerations

Housing: The demographic shift to city-style living has changed the way people use cars. The demand for housing that is commutable by foot, pedal or vehicle on any given day, will concentrate demand for walkable communities that place an emphasis on people. Will driverless cars offer more mobility to seniors who would otherwise be limited by housing options? What kind of connectivity in the urban landscape will facilitate mobility as a service?

Parking: The need for parking and its associated infrastructure will change. Where parking lots and garages take up valuable centralized resources, development can look to adaptive reuse to reclaim the land for more active uses. Technology sensor advancement in parking will drive technology improvements in traffic grids and traffic management. Here the biggest need for IoT and edge computing services looms.

Traffic: If roadway congestion will be better managed, will this result in commute lengths increasing again? Will an unintended consequence encourage sprawl? Roads are built around human needs and human drivers. Think about the number of signs that proliferate along roads. The need for signs, lane markers, and streetlights becomes less important. Currently, our cars spend 98% of their lives parked. We already see car-sharing companies like Zipcar changing that statistic by putting cars to work when they would otherwise be idle.  Connected vehicles, real-time information, and dynamic routing will change how our traffic flows and how we manage it.