Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Autonomous Vehicles: The Future of Urban Transportation

Autonomous Vehicles: The Future of Urban Transportation
by Jeremy Smith 

After a class discussion with Robert Huddy back in October, I have been thinking a lot about driverless vehicles. We have all heard about Google's progress with its autonomous vehicles; experts are saying they will hit the streets before 2020! What will this mean for the future of urban structures? I think it's main impacts will happen in the physical structure of cities, social dynamics, and the "driver" industry. 
Automated vehicles are expected to eliminate the human error of driving, reducing traffic caused by accidents as well as being able to be integrated into an ITS, maximizing the efficiency of our automobile infrastructure. Autonomous vehicles will also greatly reduce the need for parking, as users will either be able to order vehicles from their phone, or have their vehicle drive back to their home after dropping them off. By increasing the efficiency and mobility of urban areas, cities will be able to allow for high densities of land uses, which would normally be limited by traffic. I also argue that automated vehicles will extend the 1st and last mile of existing transit, and will help expand the reach of urban transit systems. 
In terms of Social impacts, I see two main groups that could be affected: the elderly and the youth. Aging Baby Boomers will be able to stay in their homes longer by providing more mobility for those unable to drive. I also see driverless cars changing family dynamics, where parents can have their cars drop off and pick up their kids from school, increasing mobility for education and taking a burden off of parents allowing for varied work schedules and changing family dynamics. 
Lastly, the taxi and limo industry is worth $11 billion and the freight transportation industry, worth over $210 billion in the US. With the automation of these vehicles and services, what will happen to the millions of well-paid drivers who often have low levels of education and barriers of entry to other industries. How will the employment of robotics affect the US economy who, in many ways, relies on these jobs due to low levels of education? All of this while the cost of learning to be a robotics engineer is increasing (in terms of tuition) every year. 

Jeremy Smith
USC Sol Price School of Public Policy '17

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