It was almost ten o'clock at night when Rafaela Vasquez settled on her sofa and started to see The voice, your favorite program. But the enjoyment had a tragic end when Elaine Herzberg crossed her path, who died on impact. Because Vasquez was at the wheel of an Uber in automatic pilot mode, a car in tests that was not able to avoid the first death of a pedestrian hit by an automatic vehicle. A fatal episode, that has slowed down the plans for the development of this technology, but that will not stop them. And if the day comes when all the crew of a car can sit quietly watching TV, how will the relationship with pedestrians and cyclists change? What will prevent them from crossing paths with impunity, now that they can not be run over? How will cities change with these vehicles that will no longer be a threat to people?
"It is ridiculous to think that they will be working as they do now, but it is normal for the physiognomy of the city to change," says Mara Balestrini.
Elon Musk assures that his completely autonomous Tesla will be ready in 2019 (he also said that they would be ready for 2017 and 2018) and from the academic world they already venture some surprising scenarios that could appear with the imminent arrival of these cars that are driven alone with full security. For example, that these smart cars they will change until sex, since the lovers will be able to enjoy in one just leaving work. And specialists in mobility and urbanism have taken the opportunity to go further and reflect on how cities will change from a very simple idea: if pedestrians and cyclists no longer fear cars, because they know they will always stop in their presence, nothing will prevent trolley to the vehicles, crossing wherever they want and regaining control of the streets.
"The pedestrian knows that the autonomous vehicle will stop, the pedestrian knows that the autonomous vehicle will not get drunk or distract, and the pedestrian knows that the autonomous vehicle will follow the law", Adam Millard-Ball adventure, from the University of California. And he explains: "Cars, programmed to obey the rules of the road, wait for pedestrians to cross, and in turn, these safer cars provoke a rational response from pedestrians and other road users. that a car will yield, pedestrians can cross with impunity, they simply have to act unpredictably or go out onto the road to force these risk-averse vehicles to slow down. " Thus, pedestrians and cyclists, empowered, will take control of the streets again. In the same way that they have organized to remove scooters, they would organize to reconquer the space taken by the car.
"It's ridiculous to think that they will be running like cars now, and the normal thing is that the physiognomy of the city changes," says Mara Balestrini, specialist in the internet of things and smart cities. "But the only way to be viable is with a regulated scenario and in which all the devices of the city are connected so they can be synchronized in real time, not focusing intelligence on a single device, like the car, which will be one more element, but not the main one ", adventure Balestrini, CEO of Ideas for Change. He adds: "What is not plausible is that they can be put to work taking decisions on their own."
"With the assurance that a car will give way, pedestrians can cross with impunity," says Millard-Ball
Balestrini is concerned to the moral dilemmas that have been popularized by the media and the most important scientific journals every time we talk about these smart cars. In case of having to run over someone, better an old woman or a child? Better a reckless pedestrian or a cat crossing in green? Many specialists believe that this type of dilemma is a waste of time that distorts the debate about the function of these vehicles. "They approach the ethics of autonomous vehicles at the wrong level, seeking to obtain an individual choice (a moral solution) when, in fact, a social choice (a political solution) is required", explains Johannes Himmelreich, from Stanford University.
The political decision is how we want cities to be in which cars are no longer a mortal danger for citizens, in which pedestrians, cyclists and cars may not have to be segregated because the latter will never take such dangerous speeds that they will have to choose between the life of the old woman or the cat. "It is an ideological issue, there are a couple of patterns that are repeated in these technological debates: on the one hand, the idealization of these inventions and on the other, reduce all mobility to the use of the automobile", summarizes David Lois, social psychologist at UNED and expert in urban mobility. Some specialists imagine two extreme scenarios: one in which the authorities take advantage of the potential of autonomous vehicles to create more livable and passable urban places, through concepts of shared space, which is something that is already being approved in some cities. And another opposite, in which cars are reluctant to lose prominence and pass new laws that prevent troll them: automobiles will not be at fault if the pedestrian commits imprudence.
Sleeping in the car from Astorga
The moral dilemmas about smart cars would be distorting the debate: political decisions, not individual ones, will be necessary
When cars arrived in cities a century agoThat was the reaction of many pedestrians in front of the machines, in an all-out war that the vehicles defeated. "In the hemeroteca there are many examples, the people fought them with capes", recalls mobility consultant Miguel Álvarez. "But the accident rate was huge, there were many deaths, citizens were disciplined, blaming the walker for his own accident," explains Lois. The street was left in the hands of cars. "The urban hierarchy is very clear, because 60% of the space is for cars, now there is a lot of social conformism and fear of change: the car has a lot of control," laments Lois.
Álvarez believes that now it is very difficult to imagine a city without cars because it is all designed for them. And it raises two scenarios: a utopian one, in which the park of a city is reduced in millions of cars, and it is committed to the car sharing paradigm for all, "in the same way that people no longer have chickens in property to have eggs. " And a dystopian scenario, in which everyone has smart cars, which completely dominate transport, and do not think about pedestrians. "I imagine a caravan of autonomous cars that take workers to Madrid from Astorga, for example, because the price of housing is astronomical, they wake up at 3 in the morning, get into the car and continue sleeping until they get to work," Imagine Álvarez, road engineer and part of the collective Roundabout Nation. And qualifies: "It's just an exaggeration of what is already happening."
But both Álvarez and Lois agree that there is a problem: the whole world can not go by car, no matter how autonomous it is. The transport takes place in the physical space and this obeys the laws of geometry and physics: in a city like Madrid, only 25% -30% of the trips are made by car. "There can not be 90% of the population moving in private cars, because they do not fit in. The city would remain standing," ditches Álvarez.