5 Ways Driverless Cars Will Transform Our Cities

Autonomous vehicles will upend conventions for urban infrastructure in the coming years.

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Steven Spielberg’s 2002 blockbuster “Minority Report” envisioned a number of technological advancements that collectively engendered a terrifyingly fast-paced urban environment — none more so than automated cars, which crawled up walls and raced along the elevated highways of a frenetic, futuristic metropolis.

That film was set in 2054, but the innovative researchers at Audi aren’t willing to wait until then. This week, as part of the Smart City World Expo, the German automobile manufacturer gave Architizer a glimpse of things to come with a lightning-fast lap around Barcelona’s FAST Parcmotor Castelloli Circuit in their scintillating self-driving Audi RS7 named ‘Robby.’

‘Robby’ raced around the track in Barcelona this week.

Traveling at speeds of up to 130 miles per hour (210 kmph), Audi demonstrated that their GPS-based technology is more accurate than ever, raising the prospect of autonomous vehicles speeding into mainstream urban infrastructure in the coming years.

Driverless cars undoubtedly remain the guinea pigs of the transportation world, but, with the technology advancing at break-neck speeds, urban theorists have begun speculating how the widespread use of driverless cars could change our cities in dramatic fashion. Here are just five ways that an automated future will transform our urban experience …

Via Save Our Figs

1. No More High Street Parking Lots

Harvard University research has revealed that a staggering one-third of ground-level space in some cities is devoted to parking lots. Audi has calculated that its self-parking fleet will reduce this required space by up to 60 percent and allow vast swathes of on-street parking and multistory garages to be repurposed for commercial, residential, retail, or public open space. Imagine: your local high street multistory car park could become an actual park!

Via galleryhip.com

2. No More Traffic Lights

Smart systems to facilitate the smooth movement of driverless cars through junctions — now being developed by Audi for Somerville in Massachussetts — could drastically reduce the need for those blasted traffic lights that make you late to work every day. These systems would also provide an environmental advantage: vehicular emissions are markedly lower when cars no longer have to so regularly stop and start.

São Paulo, Brazil; via Metropolis

3. Greater Expansion of Cities

The aforementioned improved flow of traffic should make journeys in and out of cities much more efficient. Furthermore, once freeways are completely occupied by autonomous vehicles, speed limits could increase or even be removed altogether, which would allow people to travel much more quickly than they do, today. Ultimately, the prospect of commuting will appeal to a much larger demographic and lead to a higher interest in constructing that spacious, ‘dream’ home out in the country.

Florida Mall; via Wikimedia

4. The Death of Outlet Malls

Well, ‘death’ may err on the optimistic side. However, thanks to driverless cars, the reduced need for parking will mean that large retail centers — often sited on the outskirts of cities to allow for vast expanses of parking space — could eventually be replaced by mixed-use complexes rich with civic life. This is what is hoped for in Somerville’s Assembly Row and Union Square districts where self-parking cars will eliminate the need for on-street parking and create more space for inner-city retail units.

Via Fast Company

5. The Birth of Vehicular Architecture

Cars could more closely resemble moving architecture, in terms of both form and function, once the task of driving them is rendered obsolete. While public transportation already offers the opportunity to combine travel with other daily tasks, self-driving vehicles are open to far-greater bespoke customization. Just imagine getting that video conference call out of the way before you’ve even arrived at the office! Or perhaps you’ll incorporate a micro gym to squeeze in some weight training and a cardio session as you are transported to work.

If you’re anything like me, though, it will most likely be the perfect opportunity to catch an extra hour’s worth of sleep in my very own mobile bedroom … Glorious.

Top image: Audi RS7 concept; image via CheekyCars7.

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