How driverless vehicles will change our lives, not just our commutes

May 22, 2018
Originally published on May 21, 2018 5:34 pm

We are getting closer to the age of the autonomous vehicles, whether we like it or not.

Driving to work could soon be opening a laptop rather than sitting behind the wheel. And while this is expected, driverless cars will likely bring much more unexpected change.

Mark Wilson, professor and program director of Urban & Regional Planning at the School of Planning, Design, and Construction at Michigan State University, talked with Stateside today about what some of these changes may be. 

Wilson expects the coming years to be "decades of messy transition," similar to the last 25 years of transitioning to the internet. He explained that we are now at a point where the technology is there, "but the social setting is just beginning to come to terms with what this will mean." 

And what does this all mean?

"Autonomous vehicles may require us to change how we live, how we do things. Urban planners have dreams and nightmares about what autonomous vehicles can lead to," Wilson said.

The things Wilson dreams of deal mostly with infrastructure: Better use of urban spaces, less space for parking lots and ramps, more efficient resource use, and fewer fatalities. But some unintended consequences may also result from driverless vehicles.

Wilson worries there could be more urban sprawl as commutes become more comfortable and a setting where the workday can begin. "It takes a lot of research and analysis to understand how millions of people will adopt to a new way of movement," he said.

If we're all "on board" with autonomous cars, Wilson predicts it would take 30 to 40 years to transition over. But as he points out, many people do not want to give up driving just yet. 

If driverless cars were available today, Wilson said he would absolutely take one to work. But rather than riding in the vehicle alone, he hopes to share a ride and pick up others on the way. Once being dropped off at work, Wilson envisions the car would then pick up and drop off others throughout the day, instead of being parked in a lot. 

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