Self-driving Vehicles As Instruments for the Coordination of Mobility
The introduction of autonomous vehicles into the roadways will fundamentally change the way we think about traffic management and coordination of mobility – way beyond the fact that a robot (or a piece of software and a bunch of sensors) is behind the wheel instead of a human being.
As this Driverless Car Market Watch article predicts, the impetus will come from self-driving fleet vehicles which are slated to be the first autonomous vehicles to emerge.
Rather than pursuing the most efficient way to navigate through traffic and seeking to complete individual trips as quickly as possible like thousands of individual drivers do, fleet management will seek to maximize throughput for the fleet as a whole. This will lead to a very different set of behaviors which will provide a feedback loop with city infrastructure planners in shaping traffic management.
Autonomous vehicles not only drive themselves; they will change the cost structure of mobility
- As fleets grow, fleet managers will find that the vehicles can be used to influence the flow of traffic. For example, fleet vehicles can purposefully slow down the build-up of traffic ahead on arteries which are in danger of clogging, or change their acceleration behavior at stop-lights (using a somewhat faster acceleration pattern than the standard acceleration pattern of human drivers).
- Eventually, as the differences in driving behavior between human-driven and autonomous vehicles become more apparent and fleet vehicles exceed 20 percent of traffic, we may find that cities will reserve some lanes or roads for self-driving vehicles because they are more effective at providing local mobility than individual cars, or because the throughput on autonomous-vehicle-only lanes can be twice the throughput of human-driven lanes .
- Fleet managers will find ways to systematically phase traffic flows in certain areas, work with employers and schools to adjust working hours to minimize trips which incur heavy congestion. It is clear that this optimization does not necessarily start when a trip begins, but potentially already before – when a mobility demand for a trip from a certain location to another location in a certain time range is known. Fleets will pave the way by optimizing their trips against the whole fleet. And the lessons we learn from managing trips for autonomous vehicle fleets will deeply change our thinking about traffic and how traffic should be organized.