FutureBuild Panel Predicts 200 million Driverless Cars by 2020


Carter Rubin, Seleta Reynolds, Gabe Klein, and Gail Goldberg discuss the future of RoboCars.

Carter Rubin, Seleta Reynolds, Gabe Klein, and Gail Goldberg discuss the future of RoboCars.

ULI Los Angeles and VerdeXchange presented their forward-thinking collaborative event June 27 in Downtown Los Angeles— FutureBuild 2015: Power Shift. Form magazine is a media sponsor of the annual conference that joins thinkers and innovators in business and government. The event is about sustainable technologies, including “trends, people and forces remaking the built environment.” But that can veer into unusual directions, as the diverse panels showed.

Among the topics were computerized robotic parking, automated cars, advanced fuel cells, drought-survival technologies and millennials impact on hospitality design. There were also imaginative challenges to the by-now expected touting of disruptive technologies.

Take this very compelling panel: “The Transformation of Ground Transportation & Streets: Trends Driving Tomorrow’s Cities.” It offered City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Great Streets Program Manager Carter Rubin, ULI Los Angeles Executive Director Gail Goldberg, new Los Angeles Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds and Fontinalis Partners Special Venture Partner Gabe Klein. The group depicted various possible futures – some exciting, some disturbing – involving driverless cars and shared vehicles.

Klein is something of a rock star in the world of alternative transportation. Most recently, he headed the Chicago Department of Transportation, making it an innovation model and launching its bike-share program, Divvy. Klein predicted that by 2020 an estimated 200 million driverless autos would rival today’s 250 million private vehicles. And, he debunked car-sharing service Uber’s claim to be a mere technology disrupting an entrenched taxi industry.

(Klein didn’t say as much, but Uber and other disrupters such as Airbnb have a growing number of skeptics. Are they simply tech apps empowering individuals, or rapacious corporations attempting quick end-runs around long-settled labor and consumer protections?)

Uber and Lyft are striving to entrench themselves in the economy, but their efforts may be in vain.

“The disruptors will quickly be disrupted,” Klein said. Uber-style sharing of cars controlled by a central company will be replaced by driverless fleets shared “peer-to-peer.” In other words, individuals, rather than mega companies, may profit by exchanging automated cars with other individuals. A side benefit of this future: 85 percent less autos (which would certainly disrupt the auto industry) and little need for large parking systems: Cars would be in constant use.

Reynolds also cautioned against private industry exerting too much control on new technologies. Public policy should incentivize healthy regulation of these trends, she said. Otherwise, we face a dystopic vision of vehicles becoming the micro-unit-style living quarters of tomorrow, with people living in their Google-mobiles. That would be bad for people’s love life, she said.

It could also smell pretty bad, said Klein.  — By Jack Skelley

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