AVs Herald a New World for Socializing, Says SberAutoTech

One of the pioneers of autonomous driving technology, Andrey Vasilevsky, CEO of SberAutoTech, outlined his thoughts on urban planning and social aspects of driverless mobility to TU-Automotive.

“Visiting my mother, I can’t help wondering at this old yard crowded with cars,” he said. “As a boy, I used to ride my bicycle freely around. However, these days, many children don’t have this opportunity.” This also forces modern parents to spend time to taking kids to distant playgrounds. Vasilevsky hopes to resolve some of these concerns with an AV concept his team is now working on: “Why parking cars is such a big problem in urban planning? Because 90% of privately owned cars’ lifetimes is spent sitting idle next to the owners’ homes.” On the other hand, driverless vehicles can autonomously come in for the passengers from a distant parking lot. He added: “That’s a real opportunity window to re-design urban spaces around humans’ interaction and socializing needs.”

Vasilevsky thinks we still don’t appreciate the drastic future changes in urban landscapes caused by autonomous vehicles. For instance, the infrastructure built around AVs consists mostly of out-of-sight facilities including car washes, maintenance facilities and dock stations equipped with battery charging or swapping equipment. “In a smart city, a driverless car can become virtually invisible,” he said.

It must be mentioned that some analysts I talked to lately don’t agree with this vision. Particularly, one forecast stated that, depending on the applied regulation, the emergence of AVs may be marked by unheard levels of vehicular traffic.

Public-private vehicles

The exterior of SberAutoTech’s driverless shuttle bus concept named Flip, presented earlier this year, is bulky and square yet spacious in the cabin featuring six sofa-styled seats and a large range of connected digital amusements. The core suggestion in Vasilevsky’s “invisible AV” idea is that driverless transport can bring down the car ownership culture: “It is commonly understood by now that mass-market autonomous vehicles will merge the taxi and carsharing markets. The Flip goes beyond that vision by merging also public transport with privately owned cars.” Future shared use AVs will travel door-to-door like taxis or privately owned cars. However, a user will also be granted an option of sharing the trip with a desired number of other travelers, giving them public transport’s money-saving capabilities.

Would  user control over journey companions turn AVs into social life attractions similar to today’s street cafes where people come to meet friends, colleagues and new people? “You’re looking quite far ahead, however, there’s nothing impossible in that scenario,” he said.

It’s well known, however, that reasons to own cars are much more than parking or door-to-door convenience because cars are perceived as private spaces like homes or private offices. Vasilevsky thinks, though, that this emotional link was fractured when people had taken up the paradigm of mobility as a service. He hopes to further break it now, particularly, by giving the shuttle users same rich infotainment capabilities they used to get in their cars. Furthermore, the vehicle users can transfer home and workplace touches from vehicle-to-vehicle thanks to cloud-based user profiles. The same idea has recently been expressed by Reluca Balan, Renault’s director-marketing multi-media and development, in a comment for our sister edition WardsAuto.

All social groups will eventually take up thinking in terms of an optimal modality, Vasilevsky said, like it happened to the Web, mobile networks and smartphones. We’re already seeing it when people use private cars for trips out of the city while commuting around the city in taxis or shared cars. The only question is, who the early adopters will be while the answer is unclear yet? “It is possible that senior citizens or large families will take up autonomous vehicles earlier than the youngsters because there’s much space in the cabin and safety is high at all times.”

I argued that, today, public transport plays a certain role in a struggle against the modern society’s loneliness issues. For instance, this year’s Chatty Benches initiative by British rail carrier TransPennine Express nudges interaction between people. What if the public-private mobility model contributes to higher isolation? However, Vasilevsky was skeptical about public transport’s sociability: “The discomfort of being in a crowd makes people to self-fence with smartphones and earphones. Particularly, one millon of Moscow’s privately owned cars is an answer to this cry for private spaces which, in the future, can be satisfied by autonomous vehicles.”

“However, the anti-isolation effect can be achieved by taking car parking away from residential zones,” he further said. Workout sites, communal BBQ areas and tented porches for all-weather open-air recreation is what makes urban space comfortable for people and that can breath vitality into residential areas.

One comment

  1. Avatar Mike Bahn 15th November 2021 @ 7:23 pm

    How does the cost of AV feature in planning for new emerging markets. I do not for see India changing from ICE to AV anytime soon!

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