Part II: How Driverless Cars Are Changing Our Roadways

Posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 by
In Industry Trends, Transportation Engineering, tagged in Tags: ,
affinis autonomous cars driverless vehicles

This week, we’re continuing our series on autonomous cars. In this post, Mike McKenna, Cliff Speegle, and Lee Baer, are dissecting how driverless vehicles could impact our roadways, workday, and community.

How do you think they will impact our roadways?
Lee: I think there will begin to be separate lanes – one for autonomous cars and another for the rest.

Mike: When we make the move to autonomous vehicles, the question becomes – do you need to own a car? Will there be a rise in public/private transportation?

Cliff: We may find that we can reduce lanes. With driverless vehicles, we should be able to increase capacity without adding to roadways.

Mike: Eventually, they could completely change the way we work and live. For example, you could take a hyperloop and be in New York in an hour. Then, be back in Kansas City for meetings later in the day.

Lee: These solutions will cost a lot of money, so funding will more than likely be an issue.

Cliff: Some of the costs will be taken on by individuals purchasing cars. However, there will be money spent on designing roadway elements that keep cars connected.

Mike: We have the technology to build hovercrafts and vehicles that fly, but they haven’t been available, because most people wouldn’t have the skills to fly them. With driverless vehicles, this wouldn’t be an issue. There could come a time when we don’t need a road network.

Cliff: In the meantime, we need to maintain infrastructure. We may not need it later, but there should be a balance of preparing for the future and designing for current conditions in the conversations. For us, we think a lot about what the tipping point will be. At what point, will there be more driverless cars than traditional ones on the road?

Lee: Flying cars sound amazing, but what will they cost? The same goes for driverless cars. Many people won’t be able to afford or adopt the new technology. It may take a long time before every car is converted.

Mike: We could see a government assisted transit system, and when it comes to pricing, we will see an economy of scale. Eventually, prices will go down.

How can cities prepare for these changes?
Mike: There are already lots of resources, like the Automated Driving Systems Conference & Expo and think tanks, available that are sharing how cities can stay ahead of the curve. Maintaining smart infrastructure, as it becomes available, is important, as well as making sure your community is a part of the conversation.

Lee: Staying on top of smart infrastructure and looking for ways to begin integrating it is critical.

Mike: Be open to new ideas. Things are changing very quickly. In the last few months, there have been more stories and developments made by companies developing this technology.

How do you think they will change communities?
Lee: I think autonomous cars will have to adapt and work within the framework already in place.

Mike: They will increase efficiency. People will be able to focus on other things, as they’re moving from place to place. I think, ultimately, they’ll reduce stress.

Cliff: In the long-term, they will increase a city’s connectedness. People will have a greater ability to get from place to place. In the short-term, I see there being friction between new and old. We’ll have to develop ways to accommodate both.

Mike: They could change our workday. For example, you could start work at 8:00 AM in your car and leave an hour early – finishing up your day on the drive home.

Lee: People will have the ability to live further away from their office. It will more than likely expand the pool of applicants for companies and job opportunities for employees.

Any other interesting facts or resources?
Cliff: On Twitter, you can follow timaustin_pe. A past president of NSPE, he shares both sides of the conversation and discusses how engineers should be an integral part of it. Our job is to protect the public. In the arms race to develop these new vehicles, that is not always a focus. He sees our profession as being someone who can offer oversight and be a voice for the public.

Mike: The Mid-America Regional Council is a great resource too.

Lee: I’d also have to add there is a wide range of what people believe in terms of when autonomous cars will be used regularly on the road. Some say 5 or 10 years, while others claim it won’t happen in their lifetime. No one really knows.

Cliff: It’s a modern-day space race where we’re all wondering who will be first.

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