A modest proposal for a magical self-driving vehicle testing ground

This last week in Pittsburgh, PA the first autonomous vehicles were added to the fleet of cars used by ridesharing service Uber. Eventually the entire fleet will be self-driving cars. Those who thought this technology was still years off from regular daily use by the public now have to shift their thinking.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a few people who are actually involved in building the future of autonomous vehicles. As I’ve written about before, I’m pretty happy about this technology and see it transforming pretty much everything about city living, just as the arrival of affordable cars did in the early 1900s. The trend toward robots, drones, and other automation promises to transform nearly everything we know about living together on Earth, but that’s a much larger topic than I plan to tackle today.

Now that Uber has dived into the pool, it’s time for some of the other players to start testing their self-driving vehicles. I believe the perfect place to test the first entirely self-driving autonomous vehicle community is at Walt Disney World in Central Florida.

Walt Disney World covers an area about twice the size of Manhattan and is home to 200,000 plus people at any time, some overnight and some on a day basis. The state of Florida has already approved autonomous vehicles and there is a good supply of engineers in the area thanks to the Space and Military industries located nearby. We also have a lot of sun, perfect for solar farms and the state just passed a law making it easier for companies to deduct costs of installing solar panels.

At Walt Disney World itself, just a few changes are needed. With the exception of one public highway, it already has its own dedicated roadways and a fleet of bus vehicles that rivals those of most major metropolises. Over the course of a few years, all existing parking lots could be relocated to the exterior of the property, keeping private vehicles off the private roads. At the start non-resort guests, and then all guests, would then take an autonomous shuttle direct to their destination, whether resort hotel, Disney Springs, or theme park.

Existing technology supports doing this along fixed routes. As software and self-driving technology continues to improve, concepts like car-pooling when traveling to the same destination, supply chain automation, maintenance and cleanliness, pizza delivery, plus how to handle crowds when 25,000 people all leave the Magic Kingdom at the same time when the park closes can be worked out.

The first autonomous fleet manufacturer to recognize this and partner with Disney will have a large advantage in that 44 million guests a year will be exposed to their brand and technology. Right now big players like Volvo, Ford, GM/Chevy, Toyota/Lexus Google, Apple and, of course, Tesla are all in this market. The question is, who will partner with Disney first?

I have the perfect name for the transportation system of the future too — AutonoMOUSE. What do you think?

(A version of this post was originally posted on The Disney Blog)

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