The first ever on-road trials of driverless cars in the Southern Hemisphere will be held in Adelaide in early November. By 2020, we can expect to see large numbers of near-autonomous vehicles on Australian roads.
The technology currently being explored to support autonomous vehicles will see much greater connection between vehicles. Connected vehicles will not only provide a massive amount of information about the location of the individual vehicle itself but also about all the other vehicles around you.
These future cars will be a means for mapping the environment around you and for enabling the dynamic build of real-time maps of the entire road network.
There will also be flow-on effects of a drop in sensor prices when these are being mass-manufactured for the vehicle market. Smart cities will benefit by being able to cost-effectively incorporate similar sensors into a variety of other static and dynamic infrastructure.
The new business models for the operation of autonomous cars could also have enormous implications for the future shape of our cities. While we are currently seeing car-sharing models such as Uber disrupting the taxi industry, it is worth considering the implications of this type of business model when applied to autonomous vehicles.
If you can leave your house or workplace knowing that there will be a car waiting for you, confident that it will take you directly to where you want to go, and with payment efficiently taken care of, is there really a need for an individual to own a vehicle anymore?
Will our homes still need to dedicate space to housing our cars? Can our cities make better use of an enormous amount of high-value land currently occupied by parking facilities? What are the implications for mass transportation systems?
In a recent visit to the US, I was struck by the strong focus on the ‘10 minute city’ concept that promotes walking or cycling access to services and destinations. With the changes that will come with the impending introduction of the autonomous vehicle, it is fascinating to consider the opportunities opening up for the smart cities of the future.