Autonomy’s Killer App

.

Donald Shoup, distinguished professor of urban planning in the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA, said in an interview last year with a writer from the Luskin School, “I have estimated that cruising for underpriced curb parking on the 15 blocks in Westwood Village in Los Angeles creates about 950,000 vehicle miles of unnecessary travel per year. That’s equivalent to 38 trips around the earth or four trips to the moon.  And here’s an inconvenient truth about underpriced curb parking: cruising those 950,000 miles per year in Westwood wastes 47,000 gallons of gasoline and produces 730 tons of carbon dioxide per year.”

Yes, parking is quite a problem.  In many ways.  Just consider if you multiply those 15 blocks in LA by the number of other business areas in that metropolis. . .and then do the same for other major cities throughout the country. . .and then throughout the world.

That’s a lot of waste.

What’s more, if you figure that someone is driving at, say, 15 mph, that translates into 30,000 hours of time doing not a whole lot.

That’s roughly 3.5 years.  Again, do the multiplication.  A tremendous amount of time wasted.

Yesterday, I came back from a business trip. A colleague who had been on the same flight offered me a lift home.  When we arrived at his Jeep Grand Cherokee in the parking deck at Detroit Metro, we discovered that someone had parked their Tahoe so close to the Jeep’s driver’s door that it was necessary for my colleague to go in the passenger’s side and to climb over the center console.

The good news for both of us (it was freezing out there) was that he was limber enough to go through the acrobatics.

But what if he had been an elderly person?  There was no way to fit between the two vehicles and no way of knowing when the Tahoe driver would be returning. That, too, is a problem.

And how many vehicles do you think are damaged on a regular basis either because of opening a door to a vehicle that’s parked too close, or by someone trying to parallel park in a spot that is too physically snug for the vehicle in question or simply too snug from the point of view of the person trying to do the parking.  That, too, can result in a lot of waste or a lot of insurance premiums lost.

There is a lot of buzz about autonomous driving.  The use of sensors and processors to allow a driver to become a passenger, to allow a car to become a driver.  Given the ability of sensors—as in radar and camera—to detect both objects and the position of things (including the car) in space and the ability of clusters to compute what’s detected and what adjustments that need to be made to adapt to the conditions, it is really a matter of time—and not much time—for autonomous vehicles to be something other than the Google car rolling around in Santa Clara.

Uber has recently announced a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University—a university, by the way, which worked with GM on the winning vehicle for the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, which was based on an autonomous Tahoe—to create the “Uber Advanced Technologies Center.”  Given that the head of Uber, Travis Kalanick pointed out at the Code Conference last year that a reason that Uber can be expensive is that the passenger is “paying for the other dude in the car,” with said dude being the driver.  Kalanick went on to say, “When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.”

But autonomous cars have a lot of rolling resistance ahead of them, resistance that is going to take the form of both legal concerns as well as that of broad customer acceptance (the first time you’re in a moving car and you take your hands off the wheel and your right foot off the pedal, you’ll realize what this resistance can be like).

That said, who can be against autonomous parking?

Want to know what the killer app is going to be for autonomy?

Just go for a drive in Westwood Village or leave your car in a structure at the airport. You’ll discover the answer.