Why smart cities are crucial for autonomous cars

As smart cities come to dominate both our national and global landscapes, ridesharing and business operations will evolve with transportation trends.

Autonomous cars are changing the way consumer drivers and auto manufacturers alike view transportation, with bold new players like Tesla joining long-standing industry giants like BMW in their quest for a truly independent car. More so than almost anything else, smart cities and their continued development are shaping the way these autonomous cars are designed, manufactured and used around our urban environments.

So how exactly are smart cities reshaping the way developers approach building truly autonomous vehicles capable of guiding themselves? What does the future of the smart cities movement hold for autonomous cars, and vice versa? A quick look at these 21st Century innovations shows just how intertwined their fates are.

Building an autonomous car habitat

Today’s largely-independent vehicles often rely on their surrounding habitats to make crucial decisions when they hit the road. These autonomous cars, trucks and the computers that do their thinking rely on local landmarks and features to determine where they are, avoid collisions with others, and to plan the most effective route from point A to point B. Smart cities, then, stand to fundamentally reshape how these cars operate as they revolutionize the living and travel spaces of the modern world.

To create a safer and smoother travel experience for drivers and pedestrians alike, smart cities are taking a new approach to infrastructure development to the boon of autonomous vehicles. One road in Ohio is already intended to be a “smart road” embedded with sensors, which will aid autonomous vehicles as they collect data from the area around them to maximize their travel efficiency.

Ohio’s autonomous initiative includes a bold plan to spend around $15 million planting a fiber network cable along that same road, increasing the total amount of data collected in the area which will be used to optimize flows of traffic and emergency response teams.

As more local governments come to realize the bounty both smart cities and autonomous cars offer to their economies and civilians, they’ll embrace more changes like these to ease the way for self-driving vehicles. Wide-spread adoption of self-driving taxis and buses, for instance, will drastically reshape smart cities’ streets and highways as they reduce the need for traditional traffic staples like expensive traffic lights.  

A change in transportation ownership

Smart cities of the future will also feature fewer parking spaces than today’s cities, as they’ll ultimately have fewer independently-owned cars and more communal, autonomous ones that offer transit services. The Boston Consulting Group already expects more than 12 million fully autonomous vehicles to hit the road by 2035, with millions more sold globally each year by then, too.

As these autonomous vehicles arrive in ever-greater numbers, they’ll come to fundamentally alter how private citizens and corporations alike view the ownership of personal vehicles. One study has already shown that a single autonomous car could replace up to 10 privately owned ones, meaning that today’s cities could see a serious slimming down on the amount of space dedicating to parking garages by adopting self-driving cars. Ride-sharing apps like Uber, popular in urban environments already, will become even more ingrained in city-living than they are today.

As more of these self-piloted cars foray onto the nation’s highways and city streets, the way they transfer and share data among one another will also come to reshape city environments. The smart cities of tomorrow already have a leg up on the Internet of Things-driven data revolution, often investing heavily in data exchange services and attracting tech giants and savvy consumers alike. As more smart cars pile into our nation’s cities, we’ll also see more investment in general data services and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technologies.

The arrival of large amounts of autonomous cars has already attracted huge amounts of media attention, but few have truly come to realize how big of an impact they could have on city living as the 21st Century unfolds. While technology enthusiast are predicting massive downturns in the rate of deaths or injuries from auto accidents, smart cars will also come to affect our economy and culture in ways we can’t even currently conceive of. Obvious effects, like less pollution and more quiet (and fewer overall) streets will come to drive techno-cultural changes themselves in the future.

Ultimately, the future of autonomous vehicles and smart cities will be driven by whether citizen’s and companies come to embrace these new and exciting trends. While it’s become clear that consumers and producers alike are eager to embrace the era of independent vehicles, we still may not be able to determine their impact on society for years to come.

As smart cities come to dominate both our national and global landscapes, ridesharing and business operations will evolve with transportation trends. While people may always love the feeling of being behind the wheel themselves, it’s clear that autonomous cars are revving up their engines to put their permanent mark on society.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: 10 new UI features coming to Windows 10