Published on October 30th, 2019 | by Ahmed Bahrozyan


How Self-Driving Vehicles May Be About to Revolutionize Suburban Living

Right now, a huge proportion of us live in city suburbs. Huge increases in population over the last century mean that these areas have grown even more. In the US for instance, 52 percent of respondents in a recent survey described themselves as living in the suburbs.

A major factor behind the popularity of suburban living is the car. Look at the driveways of suburban housing and chances are you’ll see at least one car in the driveway, and very often more.

No one can doubt the convenience of having a car in the driveway when you live in the suburbs. It’s ready to go anywhere, anytime. Aside from getting families to work and school, it’ll take them to the movies, to the grocery store, or to the beach on weekends. Owning a car is all about having freedom and mobility.

There are downsides to this, however. Our cities are overrun with cars at commuting times, and sitting in traffic is a part of everyday life for so many of us. We worry about the safety of kids playing out. There are pollution levels to worry about, too. And we’ve given over so much green space to parking lots and multi-lane highways.

Self-driving vehicles

It’s not an exaggeration to say there’s a revolution happening in the transport industry. A major switch to self-driving technology is now very close.

There’s increasing commitment to this technology. Not just from the industry which intends to mass-produce these vehicles, but also from governments and public bodies. Many are now intending to harness the potential these vehicles offer to improve city living. Current policy-making and long-term planning reflect this in many forward-thinking cities.

Take Dubai, for example. It has committed to making a quarter of all journeys within the city driverless by 2030. To do this, it is dedicated to creating a smart, sustainable public transportation system with self-driving technology at its core.

This shift is going to have an enormous impact on suburban living in Dubai and elsewhere. To ensure the sustainability and popularity of a self-driving transport system, experts are focusing on how it can overcome the problems currently faced by drivers and city residents today, while still maintaining the convenience and freedom that today’s cars allow.

Suburban transport of the future

It’s hard to predict the future accurately, and there’s no unanimous agreement on exactly how things will turn out. However, here are three possibilities for the future that suburban residents can dare to look forward to, according to experts:

A highly-personalized public transport system

It’s widely believed that self-driving technology will completely alter our mindset when it comes to owning cars.

Take this probable scenario. To travel to the city center, you will merely order a vehicle through an app when you’re ready to leave. These self-driving vehicles will pick you up from your door and drop you where you need to go. They have the potential to collect other passengers, too, who are making a very similar journey or to seamlessly connect with a larger public transport network.

For current public transport users, the major benefits would be to regain all that time currently wasted traveling to and from the bus stop or train station, and then waiting for the next connection. For current car owners, journey times would also be cut as there’d be no parking space to find and much less traffic to crawl through. There would be no personal vehicle to maintain or fuel to buy either, making it an appealing and cost-effective option.

How this is being developed in Dubai

This system isn’t just a pipe dream. Part of Dubai’s mission to become an increasingly driverless city is its current focus on improvements to its public transport, particularly the first and last-mile connections.

This focus is a key element in the SD Challenge, where participants will find solutions to problems that beset commuters at the beginning and end of their journey. These will be presented at the city’s Self-Driving Congress in October 2019.

Dubai RTA is also at the prototype stage of development for driverless taxi pods. These vehicles can carry up to 10 people and are modular in design. This means they can travel in multiples and disconnect when necessary. Because passengers can move freely between pods, it is possible that multiple passengers could reach multiple destinations using this system, without having to make any mid-journey stops.

A better work/life balance for suburban commuters

Suburban residents usually unanimously agree that commuting time is a downside to this type of living. Worldwide, the average commute is currently 40 minutes per day, but there are plenty of places where this is well-exceeded. The average commute in London is nearly double this, for example.

In the future, whether we choose to use a self-driving public transport system or own a self-driving car, we can look forward to making our day a lot more productive. Without the necessity of having to drive ourselves, we can spend our commute either working and thus freeing up more of our day for other pursuits, or we can also use it as leisure time.

With the improvements to public transport, we will find there is less traffic on the roads and, thus, a shorter commute for everyone. These developments will be beneficial for both our physical and mental health.

A safer, healthier place to live

Experts are in complete agreement that self-driving technology will make our roads safer. Self-driving cars, for example, will benefit from 360-degree vision through LIDAR sensors placed on top of the vehicle, plus ultra-fast connections that will, in all likelihood, be able to detect and respond to danger faster than humans.

In addition, vehicle-to-vehicle connections will allow cars to alert each other to hazards. There’ll also be no worries related to driver error through tiredness, distraction, or being under the influence of prohibited substances.

With less traffic on the road, too, we can look forward to much less danger. This will mean being a pedestrian or cyclist should become far more enjoyable.

There should be less pollution as well. Aside from reducing the number of polluting vehicles on our roads, self-driving technology will be capable of detecting the most eco-friendly method of driving. And without the need for so many parking lots or super-wide highways, we should see the return of green spaces within our cities and suburban areas.

A future to look forward to

Although many of us currently live busy lives in congested, polluted cities, self-driving technology may allow us to find a balance.

In many ways, we can see this technology as a fresh start. We have the opportunity to build a more sustainable transport network that offers superior convenience to suburban dwellers, thus improving day-to-day productivity and quality of life. This will improve the lives of our own generation, our children, and many more to come.

If you are interested in learning more, attending an automotive technology conference, such as the Dubai Self-Driving Congress, will be hugely beneficial.

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About the Author

is the Chief Executive Officer of the Public Transport Agency - Roads and Transport Authority in the United Arab Emirates which is responsible for providing for the needs of public transport in the city. He is also Chairperson of the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport organizing committee.

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