Could automated cars reduce traffic by 90 per cent?

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We love talking up automated vehicles, but even we have to admit to being a bit shocked at the suggestion that getting a good number of driverless cars on the road in the future could cut congestion by as much as 90 per cent. But that’s exactly what a group of researchers from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development are saying after completing a new study (via BI) that states driverless cars could eliminate almost all traffic.

If this turns out to be true, it could bring us back to the days where cars were used more for what they were designed for – high speed travel. While open roads provide that opportunity for drivers today, in cities that sort of ideal is almost non-existent. Hitting any major roadway or city at the moment will find you sat in traffic jams that have your high speed, comfortable vehicle sat still, wasting fuel and more importantly, the driver’s time.

But that may not be the future we face as road users. According to the study, looking at a model of the Lisbon metro system in Portugal, the researchers believe just 5,000 automated taxis, which could pick people up and drop there where they were most wanted, would be needed to achieve the same levels of mobility we have today, without the corresponding traffic. This plan, the report claims, would eliminate much of the need for traditional public transport.

meridianshuttle

Cities of the future could look like this.

It would also kill off one of the biggest space sinks in modern cities: car parks. Without the need for these vehicles to park themselves without an occupant for hours at a time, huge swathes of towns could be reoccupied with housing or other facilities. It’s not clear how such a move would impact house prices, but presumably reducing pollution in a city and removing eye sores like carparks would improve the value enough to counter any dip in response to increased housing options.

A big part of the reason these taxi-bots would be able to take over from traditional transport services is because of the lack of downtime. If the number of vehicles is correctly estimated to cater to a city, then taxis can go from job to job without the need for idling or downtime waiting for passengers. Similarly so, if people begin to use those taxi services instead of their own vehicle, then those cars – which are used even less – would become redundant and then likely sold off or scrapped.

On top of all of this, the use of such modern vehicles would really impact the air quality in a city. Even if they weren’t entirely electric or hydrogen powered, and therefore free from harmful exhaust fumes, more efficient engines could make cities are far healthier place to live too.

Image source: Meridian, Catapult

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.