Ford CEO Jim Hackett Wants To “Take Back The Streets”
Planning for the future is gonna take some fancy techby Jonathan Lopez, on
As urban centers become more and more densely populated, our current transportation grid is failing to keep pace. In a recent post to Medium, Ford Motor Company’s head honcho talks about what the Blue Oval is doing to sort out the next generation of A-to-B solutions, focusing primarily on using technology to make them more people friendly in an effort to “take back the streets.”
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What’s The Problem?
Hackett begins his post by talking about all the good things cars have brought us over the last 100 years. “It spawned new industries, thousands of new companies, and drove generations of personal and economic growth,” he writes.
But we all know how the story ends, don’t we? In no time at all, the car took over, eventually creating the highway-infested cities we know today. And although the system to handle all these autos hasn’t changed all that much over the years, the sheer glut of folks on the road these days has created new challenges. “Thirty years ago, we spent an average of 16 hours in traffic per year. Now we spend 38 hours. The price we paid for the freedom to move was the creation of a world where roads were built for cars.”
But we all know how the story ends, don't we? In no time at all, the car took over, eventually creating the highway-infested cities we know today.
Hackett is correct in calling this a growing problem. The modern transportation systems we rely on for food, goods, and personal transport is very quickly finding its limits, and a solution is needed before we end up in terminal gridlock.
Hackett calls it a quality of life issue. I think it’s more than that, and would go so far as to say that between the effects of emissions on the environment and the importance of efficient ground transport to the global economy, finding a workable solution is indispensable to civilization as a whole.
What’s The Solution?
You can read the entire post for yourself at the link below, but briefly, Hackett identifies several possible paths forward. These include new implementation of the sharing economy, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, and smart city design.
While Hackett has his own ideas on how these technologies would be best implemented, we’ll elaborate and toss in our own ideas as well. For starters, the sharing economy would open up new ownership models, creating opportunities for more people to enjoy the luxury of cars while simultaneously opening up additional space inside the city. After all, if a car is in use rather than sitting parked, that’s extra space, isn’t it?
However, the really big jump in efficiency won’t come until autonomous systems take off in a big way. With the robots taking the wheel, the sharing economy around autos can really properly manifest, offering personal transport (much like calling Lyft or Uber) but at reduced cost. What’s more, self-driving cars will be able to more efficiently use the energy on tap (be it gasoline, electricity, or hydrogen) by applying a constant throttle and running close to the car ahead without fear of rear-ending someone. Autonomous cars really will give us a giant leap forward in efficiency thanks to the algorithms in play.
The solutions to make it all work include new implementation of the sharing economy, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, and smart city design.
Connected systems should help us bridge the gap to full autonomy, providing vital information like alternate routes through congested areas and plugging into a larger grid for maximum efficiency. Throw in some smart city planning to help accommodate all these systems, and there really is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Ford isn’t the only company thinking about all this, and indeed, one look at the automotive lineup at CES this year will reveal exactly that. Then you have countries like China which are getting ahead of the game with mandates over AI-equipped cars and roadway data networks, plus forward-thinking concepts like the 2020 Project Redspace that anticipate greater levels of autonomy and the pressures of life in a “megacity.”
And while no one loves sitting in traffic, I have a feeling the true impact of mass urban dwelling has yet to manifest. Now is the time to get prepared for that, as the problem isn’t going away any time soon. It’s only gonna get worse.
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