Looking under the hood: Anticipating the knock-on effects of AVs
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In this guest article, Santini Basra from Andthen asks what deeper societal changes will we might see as a result of AVs?:
- Will AVs benefit the convenience store or the neighbourhood grocery?
- New payment models for faster travel?
- Will cities sprawl out because of AVs?
- How will AVs affect our health and level of physical activity?
- Will AVs create new urban spaces?
As the concept of autonomous vehicles (AVs) has advanced into the mainstream, we’ve all seen more and more articles telling us how AVs will change our lives — working in our cars, sleeping in our cars, even a decline in car ownership. But there’s more to how a driverless mobility system will impact our lives.
As an innovation consultancy interested in long-term issues, Andthen wanted to delve deeper into the potential knock-on effects of AVs, moving beyond the first-order consequences we often hear about. Instead, we wanted to anticipate some of the deeper changes we might see — the second, or third-order consequences – with a goal to write a few short stories about what a future with AVs might look like.
In the pursuit of brevity, we’ve included five quick previews here — if you would like to read them all, head over to the project website at consequenc.es
1. The death of convenience by proximity
While riders were overjoyed with the benefits autonomous vehicle brought, the same could not be said about big retail. Small stores near transport hubs and thoroughfares were the first to disappear. Following quickly in their footsteps were those who failed to maximise delivered-to-your-door models.
As riders built up a tolerance for distance, and autonomous vehicles made ‘next hour’ deliveries a reality, they started to get much more picky and intentional about where they went for their daily shopping. Stumbling into the local convenience store on the way home from work was a thing of the past, and, instead, the independent grocers in the neighbouring area were much more likely to get a visit.
Where else has similar change happened?
“It was easy to predict mass car ownership but hard to predict Walmart.” Carl Sagan
This quote speaks to the wave of unintended consequences brought about by the automotive revolution. In the same way that cars allowed for the out-of-town shopping centre, so too will autonomous vehicles reshape the retail industry of tomorrow.
2. Not all roads are created equal
At first, there was a medley of transport services. Each had their own unique offering, but over time smaller services were picked off one by one. The remaining companies discovered a new power; not only did they have control of the roads, but they also had control of the way traffic moved.
Soon, riders saw ‘premium subscriptions’ being advertised and, little by little, riders noticed changes to their commutes — it seemed to take longer, there were lanes which always seemed empty, and at peak times it seemed like someone else always got picked up immediately while you waited. When the first luxury vehicle whooshed past in the rush hour migration, it was clear that the roads, once a cornerstone of public infrastructure, had been invaded by corporate interests.
Have we seen this before?
This future is with us in a small way today in the form of Uber’s surge charges – those who are willing to pay more during moments of transport stress can go about their days, while those who don’t must make do with a second-rate service.
3. Sprawling autonomous cities
With the stress of city living and an increasing allure of being closer to nature, inner-city residents did what they thought was right and fled. With transport being cheaper and easier than ever thanks to AVs, the commute was suddenly useful, not wasted, time.
Major homebuilders followed suit. Sprawling new housing estates sprung up in which everyone could get their square of walled garden – distance didn’t matter because AVs made it so easy to make any trip. Even when people noticed that journeys that used to be walked or cycled were increasingly being made by AVs, nobody could stand in the face of achieving ‘the lifestyle.’
How is urban density linked to movement?
Already we can pinpoint cities designed with specific technology in mind. Head to Atlanta or Los Angeles without a car and getting around is almost impossible thanks to urban sprawl.
4. On the move, yet sedentary
Initiatives focused directly on transportation might consider investing in public autonomous transport systems, more social forms of travel or even multimodal transportation that enables a combination of walking, cycling, private and public AVs to combat increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
Effective transport systems need mobility solutions and urban planning to support one another. Good urban planning should emphasise walkability and social interactions to avoid the building of sprawling autonomous cities.
How will AVs affect our social and physical habits?
With travel so easy via AVs, it’s likely that getting our 10,000 steps per day will look much more challenging in the future. Just as the dawn of the digital age has completely changed how we interact with each other, driverless cars will completely change how we understand movement and socialising.
5. New urban spaces
It took only 15 years for cars to replace horses as the main means of transportation. In that transition, many jobs were displaced, and much infrastructure which had previously catered to the horse and cart was rendered useless. Now, these spaces have been transformed — carriage houses have been converted into desirable mews houses, breweries, hotels, and more.
As a result of the decline of the manufacturing industry, huge amounts of land, hosting now decommissioned factories, were turned to brownfield sites. Positive outcomes of this result in places like Canvey Wick in Essex in the UK, a former oil refinery that has been rewilded. Described as a “brownfield rainforest” by Natural England officer Dr Chris Gibson, it is now designated a Site of Scientific Interest (SSI) due to its abundance of wildlife. Is this the future for unused urban space?
How will AVs change urban spaces?
What use are road signs or inner-city car parks to AVs always on the move? Might they be cleared to make space for community projects, or are these spaces more likely to be sold on for development?
How do you think AVs will change the spaces we live in and drive through? Would you pay for access to the ‘fast lane’? Would you opt for a driverless journey over walking or cycling, even over a short distance? Let us know what you think of each of these scenarios in the comment section below.
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