The car has already changed the world once before. Beginning around 100 years ago, increasingly affordable cars came into the market. The growing use of the automobile began to drastically alter landscapes all over the world, both urban and rural.
There were many positives that came with using cars for the mass population. The vehicles diminished rural isolation, increased people’s freedom to live and work where they pleased, and opened up increasing opportunities for recreation. New industriesand career choices were born: the gas station, the roadside diner, traffic management, the car technician, and many more.
There were also negatives. Space had to be found for all these vehicles. Parking lots were built in cities and rural farmlands were given over to brand-new highways. Traffic congestion increased and people began to spend more and more time in their vehicles, affecting their productivity. Road safety was (and still is) always a concern. What’s more, vehicle-related pollution is one of today’s biggest issues across the globe.
Now the automobile, and transport in general, is about to go throughanother huge revolution: the switch to self-driving technology. This means that, just as they did 100 years ago, cars and the transport system are about to completely transform cities and the way people live in them.
Expect great things. Talk at future mobility exhibitions now focuses on how self-driving technology can overcome the problems currently faced by drivers and city residents today. Experts are committed to harnessing new technology to find solutions to the issues that the automobile has brought with it, for drivers, for the urban landscape, and for city populations alike.
● Improved Safety
Sadly, more than 1.25 million people die in road accidents across the planet each year. Many of these are down to driver error and misjudging road conditions, or impaired driving abilities due to scenarios like onboard distractions, a bad mood, or alcohol use.
Thankfully, self-driving technology can overcome these issues. Firstly, the self-driving car cannot be distracted by a noisy child, a smartphone alert, or an argument.
Secondly, a self-driving vehicle can be alert at all times. 360° LIDAR sensors on top of the vehicle improve upon the biologically limited gaze of the human eye and can maintain a continuous watch, for both moving and stationary objects. A vast amount of data is sent from these sensors to the car’s computer every second. The software can react almost instantaneously by detecting hazards and adjusting the course and speed of the vehicle appropriately.
Finally, harnessing 5G and the Internet of Things means that self-driving vehicles will be fully connected. They will be able to send and receive information to and from other vehicles, meaning they are continually in the know about upcoming hazards on the road, dangerous weather conditions such as black ice, and other threats to passenger and pedestrian safety.
Therefore, expect a future where a city’s roads are used by vehicles that are fully alert to their surroundings, move within speed limits, and maintain safe stopping distances.
● Decreased Emissions
City pollution levels are high on the agenda for leaders across the globe. It is thought that self-driving technology can and will help lower emission levels when it arrives in the mainstream.
Algorithms used by a self-driving vehicle’s computer will be able to select the most economical driving method, reducing each vehicle’s emissions to a minimum. City-based vehicles, especially taxis, are also expected to get smaller (most taxi journeys are only occupied by one or two passengers). Improved safety will also mean that vehicles can be lighter, again reducing the fuel needed to propel them.
Studies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US indicate that by 2030, journeys that are undertaken by smaller (one- or two-passenger) self-driving taxis could reduce emissions by 94% compared to the same journey taken by today’s cars.
An improvement in public transport networks can be added to this, thanks to self-driving technology. Dubai is leading the way in this area. It already has a driverless metro network and, furthermore, the city has set an ambitious target for a quarter of all journeys in the city to be driverless by 2030.
To achieve this, Dubai is working hard to make public transport more efficient and thus more appealing. A world challenge for self-driving transport has been set by the Dubai World Congress For Self Driving Transport. This challenge, in part, focuses on providing seamless first- and last-mile connections for public transport users to hugely improve convenience and journey times.
● Improved Journey Times
There are many reasons to believe that self-driving technology will improve inner-city journey times. Aside from the expectation that more people will rideshare or use public transportation, self-driving cars will also have the technology to pick the smartest routes available at that moment.
Their inter-connectivity will alert them of hold-ups and road blockages and the best alternative routes, and it will send them straight to the most convenient and available parking spot if needed.
This has hugely positive consequences for city residents. Shorter journey times mean that days can be more productive or that leisure time can be increased. Self-driving technology will allow all people to work or to entertain themselves on the move, no matter what their choice of transportation is.
A decrease in vehicles on the road means that positive and sustainable uses can be found for traffic lanes and parking lots no longer needed. Improved driving accuracy and smaller vehicles will mean that roads will need not be so wide for self-driving cars. There can be more cycle, pedestrian and recreational paths instead, for instance, and more green space in cities.
How will self-driving technology affect day-to-day city living?
People can expect to have more time to spend at will. They can expect a more pleasant, cleaner environment. They can expect safer journeys and less worrying about road accidents.
There is also greater freedom to consider. The improvements to the transport system will mean that travel will never have been quicker, more enjoyable, or more convenient. The way people spend their leisure time will likely change greatly. Those currently unable to drive will see the greatest improvements to their quality of life — the elderly, the young, and people with disabilities.
Once again, new industries and careers will be born from an automotive revolution. A workforce will be required to build, maintain and improve self-driving technology. The entertainment and leisure industries will need to respond to increasing free time and the need for onboard entertainment.
There will also, almost definitely, be changes to a person’s way of life that are difficult to predict or imagine right now — hopefully for the better, or perhaps for the worse. People today are certainly living on the cusp of some very exciting times.
Ahmed Bahrozyan is the Chief Executive Officer of the Public Transport Agency – Roads and Transport Authority in the United Arab Emirates which is responsible for providing for the needs of public transport in the city. He is also Chairperson of the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport organizing committee.