Planning for the City of Tomorrow

Autonomy will usher in the single greatest change in society since the Industrial Revolution.

Autonomous vehicles will change every aspect of our society, and it is crucial that cities start to plan today. If cities do not plan for the future of autonomy today, they will face undue economic challenges as the urban plan will have to be redesigned and rebuilt to accommodate autonomous vehicles and eventually autonomous flying transport.

Traditionally cities have been laid out in a rectilinear grid of streets, tomorrow this will no longer be true as autonomy will change our transportation wants, needs and habits. In the future, there will be cities where vehicles are not permitted to enter the heart of the city above ground. Instead, vehicles will travel autonomously below the surface and drop passengers off at dedicated drop-off and pick-up zones.

Removing vehicles from city streets will free up valuable real estate for new buildings and open space areas. Cities will truly become walkable and bikeable. For longer distances, autonomous electric shuttles (modeled after golf carts) will be able to move individuals.

When planning for the city of tomorrow, cities have to take small steps to achieve big goals. While my vision for a city will not happen tomorrow, it is important that city planners begin to plan for the city of tomorrow, today.

Local City Councils should start by passing resolutions that clearly state their city’s support for autonomous vehicles and smart city technologies. In Beverly Hills, the City Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution in April of 2016 stating that the City supports the development of an autonomous vehicle program.

At the same time, the City of Beverly Hills is currently developing a fiber-to-the-premises network which will start to come online in the Summer of 2017. Every commercial building, residence, multi-family dwelling and select pieces of infrastructure will be connected to the network. Having a scalable fiber network will allow the City to use the data gathered from connected infrastructure to optimize traffic flow as an example.

This is truly just a starting point as we do not yet know what the future holds for a connected city. But laying the groundwork for a city that is smart and connected is crucial. As part of the planning process, electric vehicle charging and smart grid technologies have to be taken into account.

Today we do not know what the standard for electric vehicle charging will become or where the vehicles will operate in the city. Cities can still plan for an autonomous connected electric future by modeling behavior and putting together a plan to lay enough electrical conduct to support high-speed electric vehicle charging.

To determine where the electric vehicles might need to be charged, cities should invite car sharing services into their cities under a data sharing agreement. An agreement which states that the car sharing service agrees to share aggregate data on the location of the vehicles and the times vehicles are used within city limits. This data will allow for a City to efficiently plan for an electric vehicle charging network and ensure there is enough electrical conduct to charge the vehicles.

Furthermore, the data gathered from car sharing services will allow Cities to model behavior as it relates to drop-off and pick-up zones. When autonomous vehicles start to operate in cities, it will be crucial for the city to have dedicated autonomous vehicle drop-off and pick-up zones with electric vehicle charging capabilities. The City of Beverly Hills is currently evaluating converting the valet zones into autonomous vehicle drop-off and pick-up zones to prepare for the future.

While the City of Beverly Hills has been at the forefront of autonomy and smart city technologies, every City in the world can be as well. To be at the forefront, cities have to play to their strengths.

If a city is located on a river or the ocean, it can increase renewable energy and optimize transportation with autonomous ships. Each and every city has their very own unique competitive advantage, they just might not know it yet.

For cities to find their competitive advantage, they should let the world know that their city is open to innovation. When the world knows, engage in open and honest conversations with the smartest minds in the world. Cities might just be surprised how easy it is to start planning for the city of tomorrow.

Originally published in AutomotiveIT