This project starts from a set of themes to illustrate how technological aspects of fully autonomous cars—robocars—translate into spatial and social changes, and how those potential changes could respond directly or indirectly to current urban issues and goals:
ROBOCAR, SHARING, and OWNERSHIP – Autonomous cars can improve vehicle sharing schemes by making them more efficient, comfortable and affordable, and consequently influencing their adoption and integration within current mobility systems and urban agendas. As robocars talk back to the city, comply with traffic rules, urban rules and user behaviour, they can be teamed with MaaS to optimise the traffic system, fitting it to user needs and sustainable goals. Current sharing schemes entail fixed parking spaces and a well-distributed fleet, becoming costly and unpredictable for users, service providers and municipalities. Driverless MaaS could boost sharing, cut costs and reinvent ownership by eliminating the spatial constraints of fixed service areas found in current sharing schemes.
GUIDED AND BRAINED ROBOCAR – As robocars talk back to the city and comply with urban and traffic rules, the mobility system in the city can be more adaptable, modifying the current spatial hierarchies and allowing for curfews in car speed, accessibility, and flows. This can lead to scalable and quick changes in street hierarchies, less spatial fragmentation, car-free zones, slower streets, and improved responsiveness to exceptional events. Due to narrower roads enabled by increased driving precision and freed-up parking, the transversal street section can be reconfigured to accommodate gradients of slower speeds, encouraging active mobility innovations. If robocars were intelligent, less traffic infrastructure (e.g. traffic lights, traffic signs, bumpers) would be needed. How will the streets change if robocars were guided and brained? How can changes in street hierarchies, namely accessibility, speed and flows, transform the urban environment at different spatial scales (from street, block and neighborhood scale to city and regional scale)?
PARKING SPACE CHANGES – If cars parked by themselves unobtrusively and their number decreased due to sharing, parking space could be freed up and redesigned. Streets could accommodate more greenery, absorb more water, and be more fit for new activities and uses. As parking will be more independent from origins and destinations, parking rules will change accordingly, allowing for new possibilities in urban design. How could parking spaces be reshuffled in the city, how will cars relate to users and destinations, and how to design the potentially freed-up parking space?
MANY TYPES OF ROBOCARS – Robocars will appear on our streets in a myriad of guises and are likely to be culturally transformative. They can lead to new social behavior and activities, business types, and urban development. There could be many types of cars, priced, sized, owned differently and available in many service packages, allowing for different spatial scenarios. The future urban image depends on how robocars will be priced, sized, parked, shared and owned, on how they will merge with public transport and active mobility, and enable other sustainable urban trends. How may robocars change land-use at different scale levels: from the street level activities, to the mix of uses at neighborhood scale, and decentralization at city level? Where will the different types of robocar park and drive in the city?
QUALITY OF STREETS AND ROBOCARS – Streets can be revalued as public spaces affording activities and outdoor generations. From linear spaces dedicated to transit, streets can be more like squares. Depending on their role in the local culture, their location and importance in the road network, streets can be places to meet, play, even grow food or enjoy the city. The quality of streets has altered due to car dependency, also reflected in a lifestyle that is estranged from outdoor space. How do we imagine streets in the context of autonomous mobility? How can autonomous mobility improve the quality of streets?
AN INTEGRATED APPROACH – The common grounds within this topic can unlock difficult relations and draw inspiring ideas for the experts engaged, for cities and policymakers. Robocars should be addressed in relation to current urban issues, in relation to different generations (X, Y, Z), across actors and disciplines, and in relation to other mobility innovations. Approaching robocars and other mobility innovations (MaaS, EVs, E-mopeds) together can greatly influence sharing and ownership, the number of cars, the transition to clean driving and, in consequence, the way urban space is designed. Without an integrated approach, transition periods can be costly, slow and can lead to bulky infrastructure. How to approach the robocar topic in the context of urban issues, across disciplines and among stakeholders and turn into an evolution? What is the relation between autonomous cars and other mobility innovations? How can an integrated approach be attained to smoothen mobility transitions and improve urban space?
These themes reveal potential relations between robocars and the urban environment as the man-car and city-car relation is prone to change. It could provide more room for change, maybe more space, thus slower, livelier and climate responsive streets. In the case of automated mobility, the spatial logic of the mobility system in the city as we know it today has the potential to be reconfigured across scales, translating into cascading spatial consequences. The street and the neighborhood scale are central to this exploration and is used to project scenarios. Constructing and deconstructing images of the city in the context of automated mobility future is a means to evaluate and communicate the spatial impact robocars can have. The street is the type of space that may significantly change in all contexts where we see cars. Through scenarios, imagination, writings and design explorations this project aims to discover how the urban environment can be reshaped to improve its quality and performance in the context of automated mobility. The aim is to refine a research agenda on this topic, to test ideas and to provide a set of recommendations for cities.