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Will Autonomous Vehicles Really Revolutionize Our cities?

From the flying cars of the “Fifth Element” to the driverless taxis of “Total Recall”, passing by “K-2000” or “Back to the future”, the writers of the 80s and 90s did not lack inspiration when it came to imagining the car of the future. It must be said that the automatic, autonomous, or intelligent car has been presented to us for a long time. But for what results? Will we ever see autonomous vehicles in our cities? And above all, for what impact on urban planning? Between smart city and science fiction, let’s see what the near future has in store for us.

Autonomous vehicles: a plural situation

When we talk about autonomous vehicles, we should actually take the time to distinguish between the different categories of means of transport.

Because at the heart of a city can cross the transport of people, the transport of goods, and even intra-campus or intra-district mobility.

Freight transport

While the potential of freight transport is immense, its democratization will take time. All the major players in the sector, such as Amazon, UPS, or FedEx are working or interested in the subject for a simple reason: without a driver on board, millions of euros could be saved. Deliveries could be made at any time and carriers would gain in costs and flexibility.

Among the initiatives to watch, we can note:

  • Boeing with its subsidiary Boeing HorizonX,
  • Tesla with its cybertruck,
  • and Thales which develops autonomous trains.

The subject of autonomous delivery includes two important points:

  • Movements from one warehouse to another,
  • And those from the warehouse to the homes or businesses of customers.

For the moment, it is between the warehouses that the potential is the greatest because these are long distances, many of which are on the motorway, and with conditions that facilitate autonomous driving (few obstacles, known roads, good mapping, etc.).

On the other hand, it will be the delivery to customers from warehouses that will require the most time (the famous last mile), and which will be likely to impact the organization of traffic flows within cities.

Intra-zone mobility

The question of autonomous mobility is also played out within an enclosed and well-defined space such as:

  • a university campus,
  • a hospital site,
  • a research center,
  • or a park.

The route is standardized and involves few risks and interactions with other vehicles. Many experiments are underway on this subject, both for the transport of people, but also for goods.

This is the case in the United States, in Virginia, on the campus of George Mason University, which has authorized 25 delivery robots capable of delivering meals to students.

In all weather conditions,

  • they roll on sidewalks,
  • avoid obstacles and pedestrians,
  • and only the person who placed the order can access their meal in the robot.

Passenger transport

Finally, passenger transport is the most visible side of autonomous vehicles. Most of the GAFAMs invest heavily in the subject.

On the side of Alphabet, the parent company of Google is its Waymo subsidiary that develops cars able to drive alone. A project that is even operational in a few neighborhoods in the city of Phoenix in the United States. But here too, there are still many legislative and technical obstacles.

The consequences for urban planning today and in the future

There is little doubt that autonomous vehicles will be present in our cities in the years to come. And this is not without consequences for town planning and urban planning professionals:

  • Reduction in the number of parking spaces: since cars may no longer need to sit idle all day in a parking lot, parking spaces will be less and less needed. The “Unparking” study took the example of Singapore to show that autonomous vehicles would reduce the need for cars from 676,000 to 200,000. That is to say a need for parking spaces in the city of 1.3 million spaces today. hui to 410,000 places in the future (-70%).
  • Disappearance of traffic lights: thanks to their sensors, autonomous vehicles will be able to cross intersections by communicating with other vehicles and staying at a safe distance from them. It would even be possible to double the volume of vehicles that can pass through intersections at any given time, compared to the existing traffic light system.
  • Disappearance of cars with driver: taxi, limousine, or VTC … since all vehicles will be able to drive themselves, the on-demand transport industry will be completely reconfigured. This is one of the reasons why Uber invests so much in autonomous vehicles, in order to be the first to transport its customers from point A to point B without a driver.

Transport within cities has significantly impacted the architecture and urbanization of our living and working spaces. Horse, car, bicycle, tram, bus …

Finally, each era has imposed its trend and the next could well be the reign of autonomous vehicles. For life in better intelligence between pedestrians and cars!

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