There's a lot of hype right now around self-driving cars, especially in transit-nerd circles. But for the average person not deeply entrenched in every small update, there are a lot of questions. On a scale from "city bus" to "Elon Musk's hyperloop," just how close to reality are autonomous vehicles? And what will they mean for cities, parking requirements, and car ownership?
WHO and what?
The major players in the race to create self-driving cars are Waymo, Uber, Drive.ai, Lyft, Nvidia, Tesla, and Ford. You can check out a full list over on Business Insider; more and more companies are developing programs and devoting resources to this technology in hopes of keeping up.
In terms of what's actually on the road right now, Uber has been testing vehicles in Pittsburgh since 2016. Its program is currently paused, following the fatal crash in Arizona a few months ago. Drive.ai is planning to launch a self-driving rideshare service in Frisco, Texas, this summer. There are other companies with other cars on the road as well.
So yes, there are already some out there. But what is it going to take before these cars are on the road en masse, and what will that look like?
Drive.ai will be hitting the Frisco streets for a full-autonomous pilot by July 2018. (Photo via The Verge)
The future of autonomous vehicles should look like a shared ridehailing model, rather than people owning their own self-driving cars. This will require regulation from cities and a complete redesign of how we think about street design.
We love this breakdown from Wired about some of the changes that will need to be made. For example, the way we think about parking. With fewer cars on the road overall, we won't need as much space for curbside parking or huge garages. Instead, that space can be used for something like bike lanes or dedicated bus lanes.
Another consideration is the need for pickup/dropoff zones. This will be important as ridesharing becomes more common than single-occupancy vehicle driving, the way we think about curbs must shift accordingly. This should lead to greater pedestrian safety, better traffic flow, and improved land-use.
As with most innovations, it will be a long time before driverless cars are a fixture of daily life. Even with the technology in place, popular attitude is generally a few years behind. However, there is plenty property owners and developers can be doing now to prepare for this future.
Some buildings have been designing parking garages with the intent of one day easily transforming them, such as an AvalonBay Communities property in the Los Angeles Arts District. This type of forward-thinking, future-proof design is exactly what we'll need for the upcoming mobility transformation.