Autonomous Vehicle Drop-off and Pick-up Zones


With the advancements in artificial intelligence (A.I.), LiDAR sensors and graphics processing units, it is now possible to have a car drive itself in real world urban environments.

As society evolves and drives down the road towards autonomous vehicles, we must take a step back to re-imagine how we plan a city for a future with no parking and no drivers in the vehicle.

To plan for a future with autonomous vehicles, engineers have to imagine a world where vehicles no longer park in public garages, surface lots or in front of a business. Instead, engineers must plan for a future where autonomous vehicle drop-off and pick-up zones replace on-street parking.

Parks, housing, and commercial buildings will replace the once former public garages and surface lots. Engineers will be tasked with studying and developing a strategy to re-use garages while keeping the structural integrity of the garage intact.

Floor leveling will present one of the biggest challenges as engineers will need to think through how to level floors which have a slight incline. “You don’t generally notice it, but if you’re in an office that had a quarter inch slope, your back would hurt pretty bad”, Michael LeBlanc, a principal at architectural firm Utile recently told Wired.

Mr. LeBlanc is correct in his assessment from a health perspective, furthermore, the slight incline could pose a structural challenge to the overall integrity of the building. Older buildings with these structural challenges will need to be completely removed.

In the United States in 2012, there were 5.6 million commercial buildings with the average age of these buildings being 41.7 years old. You can imagine most if not all have parking garages. A 2011 study from the University of California-Berkeley identified that there close to 1 billion parking spots in the United States.

When autonomous vehicles become commonplace and parking in these areas is no longer needed, autonomous vehicles will have disrupted a $100 billion industry — worldwide parking.

This abolishment of the parking industry will lead to architects completely re-imagine how they design the houses, buildings and theme parks of the future.

For example, the EPCOT theme park at Walt Disney World currently has parking for 12,000 cars. This parking lot sprawls out over 7 million square feet.

Disney could overhaul the parking lot at EPCOT and replace its current need with autonomous vehicle drop-off and pick-up zones.

This idea would follow Walt Disney’s original vision for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow also known as EPCOT. Walt Disney described his vision of EPCOT as follows:

EPCOT will be an experimental prototype community of tomorrow that will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And, EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.

Disney could help usher in the future of transportation by publicly announcing a plan to remove the parking lot at EPCOT. While this plan would be disruptive, it could be phased in over the next 20 years as Disney experiments with the developing the perfect autonomous vehicle drop-off and pick-up zone.

Such experiments could include: identifying the perfect curb height, the right number of lanes and studying the ideal layout to ensure a guest never waits for an autonomous vehicle.

In the future, Disney could build A.I. into their MagicBand product, which would notify Disney’s fleet of autonomous vehicles that a guest is leaving the park and heading to the autonomous vehicle drop-off and pick-up zone.

The A.I. engine would be able to ensure that there are always enough vehicles ready to transport guests without them having to wait or summon a vehicle.
This Disney magic will soon to come to cities around the world by re-zoning curb space for autonomous vehicles.

Cities must start passing ordinances now that permit autonomous vehicles to drop-off and pick-up passengers in front of their favorite restaurant or store. The ordinance could be achieved by simply adopting policy which would convert valet zones into autonomous vehicle drop-off and pick-up zones.

By planning for a future with autonomous vehicles, we simultaneously planning for a future where we will never drive again.

Never driving means we never park. We must start planning cities where parking, parking spaces, parking lots, multi-level parking garages, underground parking structures and all things parking are no longer needed and or required.

 

Originally published in the January 2017 edition of Florida Engineering Society Journal