With the Uber self-driving fleet trial platoon in Pittsburgh, it’s only a matter of time before the technology hits the mainstream user market. As autonomous vehicle technologies are further developed, new uses and implications are continuously forming. Safer traffic conditions, reduced need for parking and smarter city design are just a few clear big picture benefits of autonomous vehicles. While the future is uncertain, the potential is enormous.
Reducing traffic is one of most impactful benefits of self-driving technology for significantly increased public safety. Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for American teens, and adds up to about 1.3 million people each year. However, with autonomous driving an estimated 20 percent of city space will be freed up, which cuts traffic congestion along with the resulting issues. Less road congestion and fewer human errors increases street safety, giving pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, vehicle passengers and other street users a higher survival rate.
Reduced street congestion leads to reduced need for parking lots. Free parking is a fantasy. The concrete lots are extremely expensive to build and ugly to look at. However, as pool-riding becomes more common, the need for mass lots will decrease. Additionally, the reduced costs for parking spaces and vehicle ownership will lead to more affordable and enjoyable city living.
Urbanization will become a more positive economic development, and cities will become great places to work, live and play. For this reason, city planners should move forward cautiously, taking into consideration the changing needs with improving technology. City designers can collaborate with transportation officials, who contribute front line knowledge, to create smooth and effective results.
Within the last month Uber has been testing traffic safety and public opinion for driverless sharing cars. Throughout the steel city of Pittsburgh, 14 Ford Fusions with radars and cameras have been picking up unsuspecting passengers, logging public testing hours. While there’s great confidence in the actual self-driving technology, numerous unexpected incidents on city roads are still being sorted out.
As these self-driving Uber cars pick up unknowing passengers, engineers sit in the passenger seat taking notes of operation and reactions. As more hours are logged, designers can better account for the variety of potential road incidents. Though still in testing phase, this fleet has drawn international attention. While the technology is nearly perfected, public opinion presents an even bigger hurdle to overcome. People are typically nervous of big changes. However, with familiarity and proven safety, citizens will slowly warm up to the idea.
The advancing self-driving technology will impact countless industries, including commercial construction. Currently the leading high-risk industry, autonomous vehicles could significantly increase construction safety from forklifts and dump trucks to commercial trucking.
Platoons of self-driving trucks have been sent throughout Europe over the summer. Each truck was equipped with WiFi routers, programmed destination along with an awareness of traffic and other potential route hazards. One truck drove as far as 1,243 miles to its destination. Not only could companies safe on paying drivers, but also gas costs because self-driven trucks save up to 15 percent on fuel. That’s adds up to almost $7,000 saved annually with two self-driven trucks.
With 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the U.S., plus an additional 5.2 million truck-driving industry employees, the technology will completely flip the nature of the field. Truck drivers represent an impoverished population. While they earn an average of $40,000 a year, they’re largely uneducated. The economic growth will lead to a significant shift in middle-class employment, including service industry workers in small towns throughout the country who gain business from truckers. However, the loss of jobs can be a blessing in disguise, paving the way for more creative, future-focused type positions and eliminating the need to clean graffiti resistant bathroom partitions. Along with technological advancement, new jobs will be created. For example, working to ensure the success of self-driving cars could be an excellent replacement position.
Overall self-driving Uber vehicles and commercial trucks aren’t quite ready for the market. However, as autonomous vehicles continue to log road testing hours, mass market introduction grows nearer. As long as the kinks of the economic job shift, city design and public opinion can be smoothed out, we will see an improved quality of urban life. Many significant changes are flying our way. From safer roads and to more space for life, the future is bright.