What Do We Know About Autonomous Vehicles?
Autonomous vehicles are currently subject to a lot of hope, hype and hysteria, especially after the recent fatality in Arizona, when a pedestrian was struck and killed by one of Uber’s self-driving cars. Autonomous vehicles will likely have as significant an impact on our lives as electricity, computers and the internet all did. However, just like the aforementioned innovations, we cannot predict all the varied impacts and implications, both positive and negative, of self-driving vehicles. Here, we’ll offer a brief overview of what we do know and what’s still up in the air.
What We Know
Autonomous vehicles are coming.
In fact, they’re already here. Autonomous buses and shuttles are currently being deployed in city centers , sprawling work sites, and airports; driverless trucks are delivering beer long distances; and Waymo’s test set of self-driving cars have clocked five millions miles on public roads. Even autonomous flying taxis seem to be in our near future. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.
Autonomous vehicles will change the fabric of a city.
In a future where fully autonomous vehicles are the norm, there will be no need for lanes or road signs or stoplights. Cars will be connected by high-speed internet and able to communicate with one other, their occupants, as well as any central or local coordinating infrastructure. Getting lost will be a thing of the past, thanks to lightning-fast access to the latest, most accurate maps and finer resolution GPS (coming soon). Road furniture, as we know it today, will be obsolete.
Thanks to more precise and safer driving, theoretically, roads could become even narrower, allowing for more of the city to be given back to the community, pedestrians, and other modes of transport. Urban life as we know it, will change drastically.
The flow of traffic will be smoother.
If vehicles are explicitly communicating with each other, or with a remote coordinator, they can efficiently accelerate or decelerate so that stopping becomes altogether unnecessary at intersections — assuming, of course, that roads don’t all become sets of “Boring” underground tunnels). With this logic, compared to an intersection with similar density of traffic and human-manned vehicles, traffic flow should be significantly more seamless and efficient in a world run by autonomous vehicles. In addition, if vehicles are sharing explicit intent with each other, the others on the road can adjust and plan accordingly. Vehicles can change lanes or speed gently, surprising no one, leading to better safety and a smoother, more fuel efficient ride.