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April 30, 2017  |  permalink

URBAN-X: Where the Robot Meets the Road

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(I’m currently the the Fast Company Urbanist-in-Residence at URBAN-X, an urban tech accelerator in Brooklyn sponsored by BMW MINI and SOSV. The following dispatch covers “Where The Robot Meets The Road,” a public event on March 30th covering the intersection of autonomous vehicles, public policy, and infrastructure.)

Autonomous vehicles (“AVs”) are finally having their moment. On the cusp of becoming a reality, everyone from futurists to everyday drivers is talking about the promise of a new era in transportation, in which “drivers” can kick back and read a book, and collisions and accidents are vastly reduced.

And they may be correct. Done right, autonomous vehicles could indeed save many, if not most, of the 35,000 Americans killed in car crashes each year, reduce tailpipe emissions, and functionally extend mass transit into the suburbs with autonomous shuttles.

But without highly strategic planning and collaboration between the public and private sectors, they could just as easily produce traffic jams of empty vehicles, and bankrupted mass transit systems—increasing the gridlock that already plagues most modern cities instead of alleviating it.

Zipcar founder Robin Chase has described these scenarios as the “heaven or hell” of autonomous vehicles, arguing that heaven is only possible if cities and their citizens have an equal voice in guiding their introduction. The future of AVs is unquestionably urban—Bloomberg and McKinsey forecast that 70% of AVs sold in Europe and North America through 2030 will be in dense cities and their affluent suburbs.

To that end, last month URBAN-X—a venture accelerator founded by MINI— invited more than a hundred designers, policymakers, technologists, academics, and Brooklyn residents to its Greenpoint headquarters at A/D/O to debate the correct blend of innovation and regulation to set AVs in the right direction, and harness their true potential for the betterment of cities.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow of the New Cities Foundation — where he leads the Connected Mobility Initiative  — a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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