The Transformation of Transportation Will Change the Built Environment

An example of one of BMW's Mobility Services.
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Society will soon face a change bigger than the Internet; the transformation of transportation into mobility solutions. Make no mistake that driving this transformation is the application of Internet technologies, along with mass adoption of low-cost, always-connected sensors connected to cloud intelligence. Some experts have predicted this change could mean virtually all vehicles on the road could be autonomous by the year 2050, with some even predicting that steering wheels could be outlawed by 2040.

Just as the car changed the way West Coast cities developed, mobility solutions offer the opportunity to rethink how we live and commute. These solutions combine new and improved technologies, such as electric power trains, connectivity (both vehicle and human) and machine intelligence, to increase the utilization of an asset (a car) that today is idle 96% of the time. BMW sees this change coming and as their aspiration is to make mobility service so cheap only the rich will buy cars.

What mobility services might look like and the associated costs.
What mobility services might look like in 2040 and the associated costs.

Many of the “rich” might not even buy cars, as vehicle sharing could be more convenient for many and a lower-cost, higher quality and safer transport service alternative to public transportation.1 There are hundreds of billions to be made in this transformation and that’s why connected cars and autonomy has attracted the interest of Silicon Valley giants such as Google and Apple.

Autonomous transport means, for the first time, parking could be physically separated from residential and commercial buildings. This is happening now, as Tesla is planning a 2015 software update that will allow cars to drop their drivers off, park and will return when summoned. Cars could be packed closer than normal, given that doors wouldn’t need to be opened once parked.

Additionally, the utilization rates of the remaining vehicles could be 10x as great (40% versus todays average of 4%), causing the number of cars on the road to plummet from today’s totals. A recently issued report from Barclays suggests that U.S. demand for cars may drop by 40% by 2040, because of the impact of the autonomous car. The report estimates that 84% of U.S. households will be single car.

There are estimates that parking and roads take between 30 to 60% of surface land in a typical city, so fewer cars parking in few spaces will allow cities to reclaim land for purposes other than transport (e.g. open space, agrihoods, etc.).

Example of an autonomous pod to be deployed in the U.K.
Example of autonomous pod to be deployed in the U.K.

Example of an autonomous pod to be deployed in the U.K.Cars won’t necessarily look like cars, either. Removing the steering wheel and gas pedal frees designers to create much autonomous social pods (think seats that face each other). And low-speed, mobile pods for short distance, urban transport (e.g. within a city center will be some of the first applications where autonomy shines) with Cisco predicting the years 2020 to 2024 for commercial implementation of dedicated urban transport solutions. Milton Keynes, U.K. has begun testing of autonomous pods (low-speed shared autonomous transport) to understand how it can help move people in an urban environment.

Enhanced Presence at the 2015 Augmented World Expo
The Shelbot is real! Click here to watch.

Another trend that will impact transportation is teleportation. Teleportation is occurring today and there are a number of manufacturers who supply remotely controlled robots that serve as surrogates. There is at least one company that leases these for tradeshows, eliminating the need for travel and companies are increasingly deploying these to remove the friction of travel and time. Cost-effective technology elements are in place for this market to explode. More importantly, people are ready for it, as these devices are effectively extensions of their familiar smart phones.

Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. discusses the future of the
Click to learn about the “built” environment

It is these sort of changes that prompted Shannon McDonald professor of Architecture of Southern Illinois University to suggest that, It is time we rethink the built environment.” McDonald, who wrote the book on the impact the parking garage had on architecture, implores city planners to account for the role that autonomous vehicles and other mobility services will have and how they will change the underlying assumptions they make when planning new buildings.

The above assumptions regarding the impact of transportation represents one slice of the changing economy due to the proliferation of low-cost sensors, automation and connectivity (aka the Internet of Things).

1 Another transformative effect will be on shopping. We are beginning to see the impact of same day goods delivery and combined with virtual reality, the need for shopping spaces for many types of products could go away. This will have a huge impact on the built environment, as well as local employment and sales taxes. http://viodi.com/2014/06/02/googles-potential-end-game-transport-and-organize-the-worlds-people-not-just-information/#policy

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