Cities to go Driverless?

As a person who does not drive, I’m always subconsciously (well, consciously too), waiting for my society to become less car-dependent. My reasons for not driving include climate change, dehumanization, and exercise. I love to walk and ride my bicycle, do good for the planet, and live on a human scale so I can smell the roses and know my neighbors and nearby shop owners. In biomimetic terms, being car-free helps me to be locally attuned and responsive.

My fellow Stanford alum Adam Millard-Ball, now Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz, recently published a report that suggests cities of the future will be pedestrian-oriented. In particular, this would be due to driverless cars.

There are several reasons we want self-driving vehicles. For one thing, they are safer than human drivers. For example, driverless cars are more likely to stop and give pedestrians and bicyclists the right of way. This also means no road rage. Other issues like sleepy, tired, and distractedly texting drivers will be addressed by cars programmed to follow the rules. This could be a paradigm shift for the U.S., which is a nation heavily addicted to cars. It’s not surprising, since cars have long been linked to freedom and independence by clever advertisers.

The sharing economy and environmental movement are also jumping on the driverless bandwagon, with Uber piloting driverless cars in Pennsylvania and Ford expanding its Fusion Hybrid fleet in driverless mode.

On the other hand, automated driving systems are far from perfect. Accidents do occur, and we need robust back-up systems in place before we can mainstream driverless vehicles. Other concerns with driverless cars relate to liability relating to artificial intelligence systems, how to handle insurance, clear and robust regulations to govern these systems, data security, and standards.

So, for now, as I take my daily walks, I will continue to reflect on a less car-dependent and safer future, and hope that safe and low-emission driving innovations continue to develop.

A typical shot from a car advertisement. Cars are often equated to independence, but recent innovations favor a driverless, pedestrian-friendly future for cities. Photo Credit: Vladimir Kudinov.

A typical shot from a car advertisement. Cars are often equated to independence, but recent innovations favor a driverless, pedestrian-friendly future for cities. Photo Credit: Vladimir Kudinov.

 

 

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