Technology

Autonomous Vehicles Have Potential to Deliver Array of Benefits

Posted on August 21, 2017 by Veronica Siranosian

The advent of CAVs is causing vehicle makers to rethink their roles; transportation agencies to imagine new ways of providing service; and urban planners to consider new uses for parking lots, curbs, and other urban spaces historically used by vehicles.  
The advent of CAVs is causing vehicle makers to rethink their roles; transportation agencies to imagine new ways of providing service; and urban planners to consider new uses for parking lots, curbs, and other urban spaces historically used by vehicles.  

Imagine a streetcar that detects and avoids collisions; driverless shuttles whisking passengers from a train stop to their final destinations; and vehicles that drive and park themselves. Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) have the potential to deliver safe and reliable ways to get from point A to B, and they are coming sooner than you think.

More than 10 years ago, in a dusty California desert, the rubber of the CAV revolution met the road with the first autonomously-navigated vehicles participating in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenge, one of the first events that sparked the development of self-driving cars.

Since then, CAVs have evolved from futuristic concepts to modern opportunities. The U.S. Department of Treasury estimates that the CAV industry could generate between $5.0 and $7.5 trillion in net economic benefits over the next 30 years.
Governments around the world are pursuing autonomous technology. Dubai, for example, has a goal of having 25% of vehicle trips be autonomous by 2030. China has set goals for “partially-autonomous” vehicles to account for 50% of vehicle sales by 2020; and fully autonomous technologies to be featured in 10% of sales by 2030. The Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative is already conducting live technology demonstrations to raise awareness and build momentum for the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles.

The advent of CAVs is causing vehicle makers to rethink their roles; transportation agencies to imagine new ways of providing service; and urban planners to consider new uses for parking lots, curbs, and other urban spaces historically used by vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to deliver an array of benefits, but their integration into our cities and communities must be thoughtfully planned. By mapping how CAVs may affect future transportation networks, AECOM is helping to forecast, develop and meet federal, regional, and local safety, mobility, and environmental goals. Our initial work points to these key ideas:

Technology is a tool, not a solution in itself. The exciting thing about CAVs is not only that cars will drive themselves, but that great advances can be achieved for safety and mobility. Rather than focusing on what we can do to accommodate CAVs, we should focus on how CAVs can advance our mobility, equity, and safety goals.

  • Partnerships and pilots will pave the way. Recent advances in transportation technology have brought new players into the field, from ride sourcing to software companies. Partnering on pilot projects with new mobility service providers can allow transit agencies to test solutions and move technology forward in a way that best serves local needs.
  • Planning is imperative. While autonomous vehicles will deliver safety benefits, many of their other impacts are still largely speculative. Now is the time for scenario planning to bookend potential future scenarios, and to evaluate how present-day policy and infrastructure decisions can help shape CAV deployment to best meet mobility goals.

The possibility of an electric, shared, and automated future is promising, but CAVs are not a panacea for our transportation challenges, nor should they be. In high-capacity corridors, high-capacity transit solutions, like rail, will best serve demand. However, along with bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, CAVs can be a useful tool to extend the reach of high-capacity transit and serve lower density areas beyond the reach of these networks.

As part of a multi-modal suite of solutions, CAVs can expand transportation choices and better serve riders.

Veronica Siranosian is senior project manager and CAV expert at AECOM (www.aecom.com).

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