Getting Around in a Future ‘Smart City’
Uber, Daimler Mercedes-Benz,‘ VTOL’
There is no universally accepted definition of “smart city.” The definition varies based on the country, city development, resources and aspirations. Yet, every definition of smart city involves an urban ecosystem based on development – an institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure.
One of the core infrastructure elements in a smart city is efficient urban mobility and public transport.
I don’t like to drive. I drive as little as possible.
I am fortunate to live in an area of Los Angeles where I can walk to get my groceries, to see a movie or to have dinner with friends. I work from home and only occasionally do I have to drive to our Parking Today office.
Also, because I was born in Europe yet came of age in the U.S., I can’t identify with the “American Car Culture.” I didn’t get my driver’s license till my early 20s.
Still, LA is a horizontal city not well-known for its public transportation. These days, however, more and more people here are giving up car ownership – thanks to Uber and Lyft.
Is it worth it to own a car, pay its expenses and worry about parking? With the latter, parking can be expensive, especially when going to a football game at the Rose Bowl or a concert at the Greek.
I have taken Uber many times to the Hollywood Bowl, and my ride’s expense was lower than parking there. Even with tipping the driver. What would happen, though, if I didn’t have to be concerned about, say, tipping a driver, because in the future, I could simply call an Uber car without a driver?
Ride-hailing pioneer Uber has been working on getting rid of its drivers for a while now. After all, no drivers for Uber means that it gets more profits. That $30 I spent on my Uber ride to the airport won’t have to be split with the person driving the car, but will go in its entirety to the company.
To Uber and Daimler AG, that is, because, based on the recent deal between the two companies joining forces on self-driving cars, Uber’s new driver will be its Mercedes-Benz division.
In other words, my Uber app won’t announce that Karl or Betty is picking me up to take me to Santa Monica Pier. Instead, the app will show that Uber Mercedes-Benz car #3030CA will be at my doorstep in five minutes. Am I ready for that?
There is something to be said about the human contact element. While on my Uber ride, especially a longer one, I often read a book or tend to my emails, yet the niceties as in “hello,” “how are you,” might not constitute a smart city element, they do have a connection element – a human connection, that is.
On Jan. 31, when this Uber-Daimler deal was signed, the press release said, “Under the terms of the cooperation, Daimler plans to introduce self-driving vehicles also on Uber’s global ridesharing network in the coming years. Daimler is the first auto company to join with Uber as it opens up its platform for manufacturers to introduce their own self-driving cars.”
Thus, Uber chose, according to Daimler, the best automaker in the world to help us, the public, have the best modes of transportation to get us around town. The question remains whether the public is ready for that type of a driverless ride.
Still, the goal of the smart city is to improve quality of our lives and stimulate economic growth while employing the latest technology.
What would happen,
though, if I didn’t have to
be concerned about, say,
tipping a driver, because
in the future, I could simply call an Uber car without a driver?
In October 2015, (the most recent figures from Uber), the company said it had 327,000 drivers in the U.S. alone. With self-driving vehicles and Mercedes-Benz, instead of Anna, being my new Uber driver, what is going to happen to all these people’s employment? Do they have the skills required to move to other jobs in the smart city economy?
Smart city projects hope to increase urban density and thus create more jobs in those areas. “Big Data” and information promise to be the factors of improving quality of life and making cities more inclusive. Right now, as I see it, the self-driving cars, while eliminating another level of human engagement — as do banks with their ATMs, social media and cellphones with texting — are doing the opposite.
I’m very curious what will happen to the parking industry over all. Already, if I still choose to drive now, instead of calling Uber, and parking at the local mall, I never have to see a parking attendant. With the self-driving cars, will there be a need for parking garages and parking lots? What about parking meters, gates, payment machines, payment apps?
The “smart city,” with its hard to define concept, promises a lot while asking me and everyone else to change. To think outside the box. To use our imaginations.
And as far as Uber is concerned, self-driving cars and the deal with Daimler is just the beginning. After all, in February, Uber hired Mark Moore, a 30-year aircraft engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, as its Director of Engineering for Aviation.
Moore will be working with the Uber Elevate team, its “flying car” initiative, which is focused on developing electric aircraft with VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) technology as a way to transport riders on short trips, for example.
So, in the future, when I use my Uber app, it might not be a Mercedes-Benz self-driving car that shows up to take me to my next business meeting, but a self-flying car.
I pray that when I get to my meeting, most likely in much shorter time, that there will still be people there named Mark, Christy or Tom with whom I can talk face to face.
Astrid Ambroziak, Editor of PT’s Parknews.biz website. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.