It’s 4:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. You’re stuck in traffic on I-25. Traffic for days. There are hundreds—nay, thousands—of cars between you and that cold glass of I-made-it-through-another-day-of-work Pinot Grigio. You look over to the driver in the lane next to yours to commiserate, to share a gesture of frustration or despair. And that’s when you notice: There’s no one behind the wheel.
As driverless vehicles continue to change lanes from novelty to the norm, myriad questions arise, including the overarching one of, “How will this affect life as we currently know it?”
The implications of driverless mobility were explored during a daylong conference May 7 at the University of Denver. The event was hosted by the Daniels College of Business, sponsored by Michael (BSBA 1980) and Kathy Azeez (BSBA 1980), and co-chaired by Daniels faculty members—and father-daughter team—Mark Lee Levine and Libbi Levine Segev. The pair organized a similar conference at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University in December 2017.
“Driverless mobility is one of the most important changes in our society for everyone,” said Levine, professor and endowed chair in the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management. “We all use some form of transportation. There are many unanswered questions yet the technology marches on. We’re already seeing driverless vehicles used in a number of cities in the U.S. and the world. Thus, many issues need to be addressed quickly.”
Attracting experts from around the country, the Daniels conference examined a broad spectrum of issues associated with driverless mobility, including technological advances, societal disruptions, legal and ethical ramifications, the impacts on real estate and city planning, and security issues. A shuttle from EasyMile, a global leader in autonomous vehicle technology, was on campus during the conference to allow participants to experience driverless mobility firsthand.
“Driverless vehicles will have a significant impact on much more than transportation systems,” said Levine Segev, teaching assistant professor in the Business Ethics and Legal Studies Department. “We were excited to be able to hear from a wide range of experts on several areas that driverless vehicles will impact as well as some of the related planning that needs to occur. Many people simply haven’t taken the time to consider the implications—and there are many.”
In a session titled, “The Future of Mobility,” Dave Britton, general manager for Uber, noted the company’s drive to create a world that’s more than “parking lots and traffic jams” by combatting individual car usage. Britton kicked off his presentation with some startling statistics, including:
- There are more than 1.2 billion cars in the world—more than the populations of Europe and the U.S. combined.
- Twenty-two percent of all carbon emissions come from transportation.
- The time we waste sitting in traffic adds up to weeks of our lives—weeks spent stressed, away from our loved ones and not doing things we enjoy.
- Close to 30 percent of commutes entail more than 90 minutes on mass transit, so most of us buy cars to cut down our commute times. Similarly, urban design has pushed us into car ownership because it’s hard to get door to door via mass transit.
- Once we buy our cars—which depreciate in value immediately and dramatically—they sit idle and unused 95 percent of the time.
Britton cited Uber’s various partnerships with government agencies to help alleviate the demand for parking, provide access to underserved communities and fill gaps in mass transit services. He touched on Uber’s efforts to take cars off the roads by offering a highly discounted and convenient carpool option. He went on to highlight Uber’s efforts to provide alternatives to personal car ownership, including pedal-assisted bikes; Uber Rent, which allows you to easily rent a car for a weekend getaway; and the company’s partnership with Masabi, a mobile transit ticketing service that lets users book and redeem tickets via an app. Finally, Britton noted Uber’s commitment to perfecting its self-driving technology, which has been the subject of negative headlines recently.
“We can either be part of the solution or we can let it happen to us,” he said. “We’re committed to being part of it and continuing to work on our technology.”