How Our Experiences and Urban Environments will transform via Autonomous Vehicles

The roads ahead are full of opportunities — if we will them!


The notion of technological progress is complex. Its impetus, arguably, is to improve — upon a previous model, the quality of human life — and to a large extent it’s succeeding. Automotive design has been in a relatively vegetative state for roughly half a century, along with urban design, whose “blueprints” have neglected pedestrian oriented priorities. Until recently, our growing dependence and incessant focus on refining our digital sphere has neglected these transportation systems, and herein lies the obstacle and the catalyst for massive opportunities.

When it comes to the overarching benefits of Autonomous Transport, current discourse hasn’t seemed to move far past simply touting rather uninspired notions of improving our relationship with work, neglecting much more profound improvements to the larger human ecosystem, particularly around safety, community, urban and personal health..

Commuting often represents a state of limbo — time spent in between the “real” experiences waiting for us at the destination. A shift in our relationship with cars has the potential to reframe and enrich that experience, adding value where there was little, as well as truly opening up the opportunity to redefine the relationship between citizens and their cityscapes.

Imagine for a moment, Autonomous Vehicles’s (AVs) being the de-facto public transport system. In a constant state of motion, their existence would eliminate traffic congestion and the necessity for urban vehicle ownership. Smart traffic and algorithmically tailored flow would ease fire, ambulance and police sirens, mitigating the acoustic impact on dense urban areas and our psyche.

We would see a decrease in the need for parking lots and multi-level garages, which could in turn revert our urban landscapes into a greener, acoustically friendlier and more environmentally sound space — but only if we will it.

Let’s start to think about reclaiming public urban infrastructures for deeply needed natural landscapes, which have been trivialized in major city planning. At a minimum, we’ll reclaim the urban environment for a less dangerous, more convivial and communal co-existence. Four lanes of traffic will change to two, as we’ll allocate the remaining space for green areas, bike lanes and safer pedestrian zones.

Traffic lights and bottlenecks will be seen as relics of our analog age, giving way to fluid mobility via an ultimate realization that the best model for transport already exists within our cardiovascular system..

Looking further into the future, drastic improvements go beyond infrastructural and interpersonal, transforming the very vehicle bringing about this change.

AV’s are opening the door to a plethora of opportunities, and yes, extending the work environment is surely one of them. The notion that humans will finally supplant the drudgery of driving with a myriad of new urban and inter-personal experiences is radical in it’s shift and benefit for society.

Commuting will be a time to reconnect, conversation, reading,.. dare I say yoga? Actually, why stop there, the possible manifestations can include exercise spaces, bars, wellness on wheels — thematic cars ad-nauseum.

AVs give humanity the opportunity to extend current experiences. Ford for example has embraced a shift in thinking with a mobility platform — aiming to improve customer’s experiences with multimodal transportation. There are also other players in the game vying to connect the urban fabric from a range of angles. Audi’s Urban Future and BMW’s Urban-X initiative try to rethink the role of public transport and urban spaces, while giants like Deutsche Bahn, Google, Uber, are taking a logistics approach to ubiquitous mobility. There are also startups like comma.ai bringing a human touch to the currently rigid autonomous driving experience.

While AVs are both the logical and practical “next-step” they also come with reservations and a hesitancy to give up control to a computer. System errors, hacking, and the inability to self-maneuver in a hazardous situation is off-putting, to say the least. It’s a valid feeling, of course, but this mode of thinking is also tied to a fear of the unfamiliar. We forget how much of our transportation systems already rely on automatic guidance systems — airplanes are flown on ‘auto-pilot’ 80% of the trip and trams operate without drivers.

Time has shown us accepting public modes of transportation and embracing the ‘downtime’. It will also allow us to alleviate our anxiety of automated guidance systems, instead stimulating us to craft environments that will strengthen personal development and enrich interpersonal relationships.

With abundant studies on meditation, interconnected fabric of culture benefiting the human economy, it is obvious to see a reciprocal link to every commuter’s quality of life. And with a rising urban population density, this is particularly pivotal for improving safety, a sense of community and the health of the supporting infrastructure, as these areas are currently shrouded by layers of inefficiency and resulting in unnatural high levels of noise, traffic and pollution.

Our future dependence on AVs can be guided in a multitude of directions and the power is in our hands to steer the collective mindshare — through critical thinking aimed at developing a more holistic urban future that can benefit the diverse and neglected needs of our merging cultures.

Language and ideas become part of the subconscious, and as such, we should help navigate the conversation with the power of words, as the most salient conversations we and tangential automotive industries can have, touch on improving the general human experience.

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