The Street of the Future: No Humans Necessary

This 45-second simulation of cute miniature jelly beans multi-ton driverless vehicles navigating the intersection of twin 12-lane monstrosities was featured on Atlantic Cities yesterday, and it’s been making the rounds via Twitter. With Google engineers tooling around in vehicles that drive themselves, it looks like the 1950’s-era dream of cars on autopilot zooming about on massive elevated highways has morphed into a thoroughly modern vision of cars on autopilot zooming about on street-level highways.

Ian Lockwood, a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University, wrote in with his take on the driverless car fantasy:

Just think, five-year-olds will finally have their own cars to take them to birthday parties, play-dates, and kindergarten. Elementary schools could be the size of regional high schools (think of the economies of scale) and have the big parking lots too. Commutes could be four hours long because car occupants could recline their seats and go to sleep. Think of the new sprawl opportunities. Designated drivers would be obsolete; so, let’s everyone get drunk!  If there is no parking spot at the restaurant, then no problem; just have your car drive around the block a few hundred times while you eat supper. People in cars could text all they want, yak on the phone continuously, or surf the internet on their computers; think of the productivity gains. Taxi drivers would not exist anymore which begs the question, “Would the driverless taxis take you the long way too?”

Trucks could be driverless too; which would make Wal-Mart even more profitable. Their 80,000 pound steel boxes could drive around town automatically 24 hours a day. Why put people in all the cars, anyway? Some cars could evolve into highly mobile robots. Without the huge passenger volume, new designs of mobile robots would exist; sleek ones, tall ones, small ones, fun ones, etc. Robots could deliver pizzas, run errands, display moving billboards, and be used to bomb sensitive targets without the need of someone to commit suicide. However, all of this might be worth it for a particular household on a street in Brookline because cars would no longer have horns. Even Mumbai’s streets might be quiet. After a few generations, literary scholars would write papers and have long debates about, “What was the real purpose of Honku?”

Mr. Lockwood, as it happens, is an accomplished amateur cartoonist. We’ll be featuring his work on Tuesdays, reviving an old Streetsblog tradition.