How will cities be impacted by the first wave of autonomous cars?

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In the future, everything about cars as we know them may change. Aviva is preparing for that future by conducting tests on connected and autonomous vehicle technologies through extensive real-world trials.

Imagine this scene: It’s the year 2040, and Tom’s home virtual personal assistant has summoned an autonomous car to his home in Edinburgh. He will be attending a meeting in London in a couple of hours. The autonomous car is taking him to a mobility hub, where he will board a pre-booked seat on a Hyperloop. Half an hour later he’ll arrive in London. Tom will walk the rest of the way, or he may even get into a shared shuttle to get to his ultimate destination.

There are incremental steps to get to this future – ten, twenty, and thirty steps along the way that are easier to imagine – and one step we can see happening in the future is fully autonomous vehicles. However, understanding the impact of these vehicles and how people might use them is a challenge. We know that cars with semi-autonomous features are available, but drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take control in all cases.  

Autonomous cars today

There are no autonomous vehicles currently available to buy. We haven’t reached the stage where a truly autonomous vehicle has been designed, tested, manufactured, approved, priced or marketed. Until that happens, along with the development of legislation and infrastructure, we will see trials aiming to find answers to the huge number of questions we all have. New ways of accessing transport are emerging and subscription services and shared mobility models mean private consumers may not be the car owners of the future. Fleet operators are more likely to purchase or lease autonomous vehicles.

There are vehicles being tested in a variety of situations around the world. Most notable is Waymo’s ‘robotaxi’ service in Phoenix, Arizona. The company has deployed self-driving cars onto public roads, aiming to integrate the service with a commercial ride-hailing network. There are also trials happening in the UK. In fact, Aviva is a Founder Member of the Smart Mobility Living Lab: London.

The Smart Mobility Living Lab (SMML), based in Greenwich, provides a real-life environment to test and evaluate new technology, including connected and autonomous vehicles. Along with Honda, BP, Centrica and Hastings Direct, we’re on a journey to answer the burning questions around the future of mobility. The autonomous vehicle trials will be taking place around Woolwich in London.

Autonomous cars will change cities

It’s hard to predict what will change in cities once fully autonomous cars become available, but I’ve had the luxury of being able to create personas and run them through a series of future scenarios for my job. Sometimes they seem far-fetched and technically improbable. More often than not, the scenarios are realistic – and when based on facts like environmental factors, technological innovation, legislation, and manufacturing plans and predictions – a picture of the future slowly emerges. One such scenario is the story of Tom’s morning I invited you to imagine above.

The real certainty for how cities will change is that public transport has to evolve dramatically and blend into a mixed mobility ecosystem. This should see fewer individual vehicles congesting our living spaces and more advanced shared systems, freeing up parking spaces. Oh, and of course: more trees!


The transition to autonomous cities

It’s not so much a question of ‘when’ cities become fully autonomous, but a question of how autonomous and connected services will become integrated into our cities – and how will they work seamlessly with people and businesses. Do we have a flexible infrastructure and are we receptive to the major transformation, disruption and cost that some of these changes will require?

Already, we’re seeing new buildings being built with the tech required for connected living, together with charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Scale this up to communal living spaces and mixed commercial properties and you start to see the challenges faced in planning such an environment. I’m certain though, the first thing we’ll notice about our cities is cleaner air. Beyond that, who knows?

I wouldn’t consider the evolution of mobility as a ‘change over’ to connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), more an adoption and integration of CAVs in certain aspects of life. Mobility is about moving people, goods and services and CAVs are a component of this. To get to the point of having CAVs working ubiquitously in a city environment, one has a multi-faceted set of impacts to address.

Some are positive and others less so. Imagine for example, if all taxis were robotaxis. Where would the former drivers work? If all connected vehicles were also able to predict their need for repair… and fix themselves. And what if cars cleaned themselves, and they never crashed into each other, accidents were a thing of the past, what impact would that have on society?

I’m asked when we’ll see autonomous vehicles in everyday life almost every day, but that’s a very hard question to answer. The adoption of connected and autonomous vehicles depends on the circumstances. Personal individual mobility and commercial industrial mobility will dramatically differ. The latter has already adopted autonomous vehicles over the last few decades, from the Docklands Light Railway to heavy industrial mining trucks. These don’t hit the headlines, but have been successfully used to improve movement, efficiency and safety.

So, we’re already starting to see autonomous vehicles in everyday life – they just aren’t the ones you may have noticed.

Andreas Mavroudis is Senior Mobility Futures Manager at Aviva.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.