March 2, 2016


Driverless cars are the future. We're living in the motorised middle ages (Martin Belam, 2 March 2016, The Guardian)

There will be awkward decades where the modes of transport co-exist, as evidenced by the fact that one of Google's self-driving cars just pranged a bus in the US. But what is the exception now will become the norm. The Manchester Guardian reported on the first fatal motor car accident in the UK back in August 1896. You wouldn't dream of reporting on a non-fatal road collision now unless it featured a new technology like Google's. Or a celebrity.

What interests me though is the way that the driverless revolution will transform our urban spaces, and the routes between them. Nearly everything about urban road design is currently done to minimise the risk of humans making bad decisions.

Take traffic lights. You'll still need road-crossings for pedestrians and cyclists, but in a world where every vehicle is controlled by computers, algorithms should be able to feed vehicles through junctions faster. No more sitting at the lights waiting while literally nothing wants to cross your path. The need for traffic lights gradually fades away, in the same way that we no longer have inns where you can pick up fresh horses. Motorway junction design, roundabouts, urban parking spaces: all of these things could and will be profoundly changed.

And then there's the way that we behave inside cars.

For the last century the interior design of the car has been entirely optimised around one person with feet on pedals and hands on a wheel, with their eyes to the road and their need to have all the controls within easy reach. But if you don't need a human in charge, then the very layout of the seats in a car can be fundamentally reorganised.

A driverless vehicle might have people sitting facing each other, with a table in the middle. Or the front windscreen could show you all a movie while you are travelling. Or there might be self-driving cars configured as sleepers, so you can go to sleep in one city, and wake up in another, while remaining in an enclosed private space.

Posted by at March 2, 2016 6:19 PM