Self-Driving Cars: Are We Living in the Future?

If you have been paying attention to the latest news from the vehicle manufacturing industry, you may have noticed a new trend: some cars don’t need a driver! While it may seem we are “back to the future,” most car manufactures are investing resources to develop cars that rely on technology to go from Point A to Point B. Google and Lexus are two companies that have already unveiled driverless vehicles.

With all the different jargon in use, it is worth taking a step back to explain the differences:

Connected vehicles communicate anonymously and send data to other vehicles and infrastructure. Basically, the vehicles “talk” to one another so they can determine where they are in the traffic stream.

An autonomous vehicle – different from automated vehicles – could take on several forms, such as a self-driving vehicle or a partially autonomous vehicle that may utilize adaptive cruise control or make adjustments that keep your car inside its lane. A fully “autonomous” vehicle carries all of the necessary sensors so that it can actually drive itself without input or command from the outside. It does not rely on communications from other vehicles. It responds to what it “senses” around it. Autonomous vehicles cannot detect traffic situations that block its sensors.

Automated vehicles allow certain driving functions (acceleration, braking, steering) to be machine activated by technology built into the vehicle.

Now is the right time for city and state officials to become knowledgeable of these new modes of transportation. But where to start and how to plan? Tips – courtesy of Mobility Lab, a leading source of information to increase awareness and education about better transportation options – are below.

Understand What is Unfolding: If regions sit back and do nothing, mobility companies will still go forward. Companies are already collaborating with any willing partner, whether it’s a university, states, or cities.

Set the Big Picture: You don’t need to slog through a four-year-long visioning process, but cities need to envision the role each mode plays, including public transit, local buses, active transportation, private cars, and future modes such as driverless transit.

Set the Priority on Transit: Cities need to make sure conversations on driverless cars are less about individual vehicles and more about optimizing the economic power of land use plus transportation.

Design New Nodes: This is the most important point for cities. Uber uses “smart routes” to suggest collection points for multiple riders, thus reducing the time needed to pick up disparate fares. As mobility companies grow and proliferate, the competition for convenient curbside collection points will be fierce.

More in-depth planning discussions are needed, so that governments are more prepared to deal with autonomous and connected/automated vehicles.

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