When you travel around in London you encounter three moving icons that help define the city: the Underground, the red double-decker buses, and the black London cabs. You do not want to drive yourself in the centre city for several reasons: there are a lot of cars and little parking, they drive on the other side of the road, and they have a “Congestion Charge” that, for the casual tourist, is up to £14 per day, with a £130 per day fine if you are caught without paying the CC.
Last year I predicted that by 2030, London will be the first large city to completely ban non-autonomous vehicles within the City of London. And by 2040 within the entire metropolis of London. I may have been too conservative.
Marcello Raeli is a young Italian designer who grew up all over the world, moving with his parents every 4-5 years. His father was an architect and a painter, and Marcello yearned and learned to be a Designer of things that solved real people’s problems. He also loved Isaac Asimov’s science fiction stories and predictions of the future. He designs shoes, including “running” shoes that can bring the same augmentation that some amputee runners have discovered to a full-limbed runner. He also designs cars, from micro-minis to high performance cars.
One of his latest designs is Auto-Mate, an autonomous time-share vehicle specifically for London. It seats up to four adults in comfort. Taking inspiration from the iconic red buses, red telephone booths, and the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel by the Thames, the Auto-Mate is a sleek, futuristic-looking vehicle the same size as the existing London cabs. These vehicles provide transportation-as-a-service to anybody at any time of the day or night, and in any weather. The number of cabs on the street can change automatically based on demand. Over a relatively short time, the system will be able to predict need based on day of week, time of day, weather, or special event and have sufficient vehicles available to meet real-time needs.
London cab drivers, usually, are well trained and know their way around. They speak a form of English, sometimes not easily understood by Americans. The Auto-Mate can speak and understand dozens of languages, and keep quiet when that is what you want.
Raeli’s Auto-Mate is just a design today, but at the rate autonomous vehicles are evolving, sometime soon you may see these as you walk by Parliament.
There are, of course, those who want to slow down the adoption of autonomous cars. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is currently planning on having guidance for the deploying of autonomous vehicles by July 2016. Issuing actual regulations normally takes about eight years; by providing early guidance, the US government will be able to react more quickly to this rapidly changing technology.
It is very hard to stop new technology. Already, Tesla’s autopilot function will automatically drive your car on a highway, including changing lanes and adjusting speed in response to nearby traffic.
The last word:
In January, General Motors and Lyft announced an alliance to create a network of on-demand autonomous vehicles in the US. Lyft is a ride-sharing service, and this alliance plans to eliminate the driver.
Ford is also allowing some car owners to rent their car to a stranger for short periods of time. For example, 12,000 Londoners offer time slots in their cars to pre-screened renters. The plan is that they can earn enough money to cover their car payments, thus having a vehicle for their own use for free. This car-sharing and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are starting a significant change in how we think about cars.
Cars are critical, especially for those of us of a certain age for whom a car represented freedom, a key disconnect from constant supervision by parental units and a means of getting where we wanted to go when we wanted. But, considering the cost of a car and the fact that most cars spend 95% of their time parked and unused, the significance of car ownership will probably decrease.
Maybe not for us over 30, but for the younger generations, the car is likely to cease to be a prized possession but just a means of getting somewhere, and it won’t have to be their’s.
Children born after 2015 will probably need a history lesson before they will understand what is going on in the Taxi TV show.
Keep your sense of humor.