Autonomous Cars

Driverless cars have been getting a lot of buzz lately. Although people may be tempted to think that they aren't going to careening down the streets until somewhere in the far future (since such a notable advancement will require years of further study), they may be mistaken.

Manufacturers like Nissan, Volvo, Toyota, and Google say autonomous vehicles will arrive by 2020, which is only 5 years from now (4 years in a few weeks).

However, some of the biggest benefits of autonomous vehicles will come with careful infrastructure planning. Indeed, they can only come with careful planning of infrastructure. And the benefits of cities will be notable, including smoothed traffic, shorter commutes, and even the ability to convert a great deal of parking into higher-value real estate.

Such benefits should push several cities to start planning for the reign of autonomous cars in the streets. However, in a study by the National League of Cities, they found that only 6% of cities’ current long-term transportation plans consider the potential effects of driverless car technology.

Cities and Autonomous Cars

Somerville, Massachusetts is an example of a city that is taking steps to having autonomous cars on its roads. A research partnership with Audi was made, and they will begin studying how autonomous cars interact with urban space and testing real-world solutions to make the most of the tech.

Somerville and Audi will be focusing on a key areas, such as traffic signaling, parking, and on-demand transit.

Ultimately, the automakers are also focusing on standards for “smart city” communication. These may include traffic lights that wirelessly alert an oncoming autonomous car of a red light, and upgrading existing traffic lights with those wireless capabilities may be one of the first actions of Somerville.

One of Somerville’s next big moves may be new development projects fundamentally shaped by autonomous technology, such as parking. Autonomous cars will be parked fundamentally differently from the kind we have now. It has been estimated that parking facilities built for driverless cars could be as much as 30% smaller than equivalent facilities built to park conventional cars.

Somerville is also considering autonomous taxis to make the technology more accessible to the public.

According to a recent study, "Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Cars—Not If, But When," the price for the self-driving technology will add between $7,000 and $10,000 to a car’s sticker price in 2025. A lot of money, but definitely not an exclusive price.

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