Looking at the Impact of Autonomous Vehicles on How We Live

“It’s time to think about the built environment,” said Shannon McDonald, an architect and Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. McDonald was referring to the impact that autonomous vehicles will have on the design of streets, buildings and associated infrastructure. She indicates that this is an important and timely discussion to have, as she compares autonomous mobility to the rapid changes to cities and the explosion in suburbs that resulted from the introduction of the car 100 years ago. She is in an expert in that transition, as she literally wrote the book on one aspect; parking and how it changed cities.

The all-day workshop, Envisioning Automated Vehicles within the Built Environment: 2020, 2035 and 2050, organized, by McDonald and a committee of other experts, looked at seven scenarios for vehicle autonomy. The morning portion featured subject matter experts who provided a baseline understanding of the state of vehicle autonomy. Workshop participants, which included city and regional planners, lawyers, architects and technologists, split into groups to create plans for the different autonomous vehicle scenarios in the year 2020, 2035 and 2050.

Fully autonomous vehicles (level 5 in the SAE standard), won’t happen overnight and will occur at various levels (e.g. it has already begun with adaptive cruise control) and will roll out with specific use-cases (e.g. the autonomous mining vehicles in Australia). There are many opportunities to create better living spaces, as there is long-term potential to do things like eliminating street parking or reducing lane size. Still, it is a huge challenge for city planners who have to plan based today’s assumptions; assumptions which could be undermined very rapidly if the social benefits to autonomous mobility live up to their potential.

We will have additional interviews from this workshop in follow-up posts and look forward to following up with McDonald to find out the results of the workshop (the above interview was filmed just as the workshop portion of the program was beginning). Note, this workshop was one of the ancillary meetings associated with the AUVSI’s Automated Vehicles Symposium 2014.

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