It could be cheaper to drive than park, and that might cause problems.

Autonomous cars are an inevitability. It may not happen as soon as some people think it will, but there will come a day in the not-so-distant future where driverless cars will be prowling the streets. In this instance, we do actually mean driverless, as in nobody inside. And that could cause some serious problems, according to a report by Jennifer McNulty at UC Santa Cruz.

Specifically, this report brings to light an interesting – and very possible – future scenario with fully autonomous cars. Instead of parking in a busy part of town and paying potentially high fees, a car with full autonomous capability could simply be left to drive around on its own once the occupants depart. The report points to research done by Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor at UC Santa Cruz who believes such a scenario isn’t just likely, but could be disastrous to boot.

“Parking prices are what get people out of their cars and on to public transit,” he said, according to the report. “Autonomous vehicles have no need to park at all. They can get around paying for parking by cruising. They will have every incentive to create havoc.”

In this autonomous scenario, Millard-Ball envisions driverless cars rolling through city streets at the slowest possible speed to conserve energy and reduce operating costs. Using San Francisco as an example, 2,000 autonomous cars cruising the streets could bring traffic down to a rate of less than 2 mph. If that doesn't mean too much to you, that’s actually slower than the generally accepted speed people walk at.

Is this really possible? The report seems to think so, but Millard-Ball also believes autonomous cars could become commonplace in the next five years. To be fair, his estimate also reaches up to 20 years, which feels more realistic to us based on the progress we’ve seen in the field. The gray area likely won’t be the technology, but rather, the legality of such systems as implemented in real-world applications.

Fully autonomous vehicles might be available in the near future, but there’s certainly a legal minefield to traverse before driverless cars invade roadways. Frankly, this scenario of driverless cars blocking up highways like motorized zombies is just one of many social problems to be solved before the autonomous future becomes reality.

That subject is touched upon in the report, and we highly recommend giving it a read. It certainly raises some extremely interesting points about autonomous vehicles that, if nothing else, suggests the technology is outpacing society’s ability to properly integrate it into everyday life.

Source: UC Santa Cruz