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Picture: Mark Dolinger / Flickr

Helsinki is seemingly in a perpetual state of renovation and upgrade. No sooner has one building development been finished when some other chunk of land gets taken over as a building site. With the rise of the driverless car and visions to implement a “smart” fleet of cars, urban planning might have to take these and additional factors into consideration when planning where to start building next.

The international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently conducted a computer simulation based on the traffic of Lisbon, Portugal but as though a fleet of Autobots (driverless cars) were to conduct the journey, and the results didn’t bide well for the future need of private cars. The simulation concluded that for a midsized city like Lisbon, the job could be done as effectively with just 10% of the current number of cars on roads. With 90% less traffic on the roads there then comes the issue of a lot of space being dedicated to cars, be it road structures varying in size or to oodles of empty parking spaces that will become unnecessary, to mention only a couple of factors. It was also estimated that 210 football fields worth of space could be freed up for other use like recreational or experience based facilities, all while the city develops ever more residences and businesses. We could live in congested areas but nicely so.

[alert type=white ]It might be funny to map out a short urban journey between a driverless car  and that of a car driven by one of us humans. Tracking the timing and general judgement made by both would likely show the human journey to be made by that of a drunkard.[/alert]

With Helsinki being of similar population and size to Lisbon , this naturally is starting to interest the urban planning sector in Finland but Sampo Hietanen from Intelligent Transport Systems and Services, or ITS  (a global conglomerate dedicated to raising awareness of the potential for vastly improved road safety, improvements in general infrastructure, reducing traffic congestion and just general improvements in travel efficiency) and his ITS colleagues  have been considering these issues for some time. Hietanen believes these changes are going to happen sooner rather than later. “There are a lot of different groups that need to be convinced that this is the way forward but I believe that these are hurdles, not barriers,” Hietanen said.

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The onset of self-driving cars in the very near future is almost a given. Google along with Ford, Tesla, Audi and GM and a number of smaller companies have been developing their own concepts of a self-driving car or to put it alternatively, autonomous cars. There are already several states in the US that have started to put in place the legislation needed to allow these driverless vehicles to begin using public roads. Self-driving cars have shown to be a far safer means of transport when considering the human element where a number of factors like stress, tiredness, emotion and just generally being a bad driver can make for a bumpy ride. Google’s aim is to eventually have the roads used exclusively by an autonomous car fleet that can communicate to each to make the necessary adjustments in travel routing and speed in order for the trip to be safe and as punctual as could be hoped for. Traffic jams will hopefully be consigned to some headachy memory of the past.

“There are a lot of different groups that need to be convinced that this is the way forward but I believe that these are hurdles, not barriers,” said Sampo Hietanen from Intelligent Transport Systems and Services.

Alongside this is the up rise of the car pooling concept where through dedicated apps like Uber, you can share car rides with others who are doing the same trip as you or only part of the journey, or vice versa. This in itself is slowly negating the need for excess cars and Hietanen feels that this is a natural extension is to the idea of eventually having an all encompassing Telematics system in place . (Telematics meaning a system that incorporates telecommunications, electrical engineering like road sensors, wireless GPS communications and road safety). This idea though, isn’t just reduced to the main city hubs. “For this system to work, it has to be implemented across the board, not just to the cities but with the outer city connections as well,” Hietanen said. In the next 15 years it’s entirely plausible that our travel will be conducted entirely on demand where our beloved smartphones (or whatever they will resemble in the near future) will become our one stop shop for getting to and from our selected destinations. We will simply specify our journey and the wonders of technology will plan everything for us so all we have to do is wait by the road, all for a (relatively) cheap subscription fee. Additionally Hietanen envisions this as an international “roaming” like arrangement where your smart phone travel plans aren’t just limited to local soil.

[alert type=white ]Traffic jams will hopefully be consigned to some headachy memory of the past.[/alert]

This brings up a term called Taxibot which encompasses everything specified above in which driverless cars zip around responding to travel requests made through the smartphone and match up similar routes with other passengers, unless you press the “want to travel alone” option that would could be supplied on the app. As we know already, robotics aren’t prone to human errors so with their cold calculations, we are treated to the most efficient, punctual and safe journey to our destination as possible. The only foreseeable problem with these “Taxibots”, or driverless cars in general is the interim period when they are still sharing the roads with pesky human drivers. Expect a lot of rear end crashes. It might be funny to map out a short urban journey between a driverless car  and that of a car driven by one of us humans. Even if the human driver is in good condition, a comparison between the two journeys would likely show up some interesting results. Tracking the timing and general judgement made by both would likely show the human journey to be made by that of a drunkard.

A big issue for all this and the concept of private cars is that some people simply love having a car, whether just because or for hobbyish purposes. These people might take some convincing to be led into this new era of transport. Hietanen sees this as more of a generational issue. “The millennial generation are more interested in getting to their destination safer and more efficiently, as well as it being a lot cheaper rather than what they travel in”. At least here in Finland the issue of reduced private car ownership isn’t as sticky as it would be in the car loving U.S.A.  Perhaps one day there could be dedicated places to berth your private car where there is a race track that you could tear around in, kind of like having a boat for leisurely purposes.

 

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