Smart Cities: A New Look at the Autonomous-Vehicle Infrastructure

The rise of autonomous vehicles will redefine how our cities are built and how we perceive transportation in urban environments.

Sophie Zoria -
Illustration: © IoT For All

Automation of routine tasks is currently a concept that interests many industries. Among the most revolutionary parts of it are autonomous vehicles. There are visions of the future of city infrastructure. The main ideas they all share are self-driving cars and shared mobility. Those are set to revolutionize the ways we navigate through cities. 

Such concepts will make our whole cities smart, by fundamentally changing their infrastructure so that it’s adapted to autonomous vehicles. This will provide us with much safer roads. According to the USA National Highway Traffic Administration, 94 percent of serious car crashes are due to human error.

Autonomous driving wouldn’t need people’s decisions, which could often be dangerous and irrational to take you from point A to point B. This means a significant decrease in accidents and thousands of saved lives. 

The tremendous technological progress now gives us the possibility to have a closer look at all the advantages we could have in our cities of the future, together with autonomous driving and the new smart infrastructure. 

It’s expected that thanks to the advanced 5G network, combined with the Internet of Things, the global market revenue of autonomous vehicles will hit $556.67 billion by 2026. All those emerging technologies working together will change the traditional look of our cities, and they’ll become smart as well. 

However, we’re still years away from fully autonomous cars hitting the mass market. So what’s the key to adopting this revolutionary technology, and how do we need to change our cities to make that possible?

The Autonomous Vehicle Infrastructure

We wouldn’t be able to go fully autonomous without the right infrastructure. We can’t just switch to self-driving cars. The shift will also require enhanced manufacturing processes and new kinds of supply chains. Most importantly, the infrastructure must be prepared for it. Once all that’s ready, we’ll start seeing autonomous cars on urban streets.

We’re getting closer to the time when mobility freedom will finally be available to everyone. To measure that, KPMG has made an Automotive Vehicle Readiness Index, which shows how prepared different countries are for autonomous driving. According to their research, the country that’s most prepared for the new infrastructure is the Netherlands. It could serve as a model for other countries to follow to accelerate the global adoption of the technology. 

Right behind, in 2nd and 3rd places, are Singapore and the United States. However, none of those countries has a total score of over 30, which means that even the most prepared countries at the moment still have a long way to go.

A Challenging Project

The automotive industry is rapidly evolving, which makes the need for the new smart autonomous vehicle infrastructure more necessary than ever. Authorities have to consider updates to it and work with developers to make the new wave of urban transformation successful. 

What the Netherlands has, more than the others, are harmonized regulations, standards and excellent roads that will easily undergo renovation. To be ready for self-driving cars, this country would still need some improvements, such as advanced on-road telematics, smart curbs, and lanes. 

Here are changes to be made so that the new smart city infrastructure will be suitable for autonomous vehicles:

Lane Marking

Poor road markings are challenging even for the already existing connected vehicles. It’s something that has to be worked on for the effective adoption of AVs. The road markings should not only be reflective but machine-readable. 

Roadside Sensors

To be prepared for the driverless future, roadside sensors should be included on sidewalks, curbs and lanes. They will allow vehicles to keep track of their surroundings and foresee potentially dangerous situations.

Smart Signage

Current autonomous vehicles use image recognition for reading road signs. However, a much more reliable approach would be machine-readable signs. They will include an embedded code that could be transmitted. They’ll send messages detectable by computers. 

Changing the Way Cities Look

Cities of the future will be transformed into actual digital hubs. We know technology today is mostly human-centered, which means that cities will become better places to live. The adoption of connected autonomous vehicles will increase road capacity and reduce congestion, even in the most densely populated areas. 

It’s expected that the driverless future will fundamentally change the look of cities’ infrastructure. For instance, traffic lights might no longer be needed, as they were originally designed for humans. Instead, machines could determine driving priority themselves and actually be more efficient. Autonomous cars are also connected and they could form fleets that travel in the same direction and share all the information on their surroundings.

Smart roads that include the right signage, sensors and lining will be extremely useful for vehicles, making passengers experience safer than ever. 

Following our previous example of the Netherlands as the most AV-ready country in the world, we can see that the changes that they’ve made to their infrastructure already result in safety, as the number of road deaths decreases every year

No More Parking Facilities

Looking for a parking spot can be quite stressful. Fortunately, with the revolution of autonomous vehicles, cities won’t need any type of parking anymore. Garages will move outside of downtown areas, thanks to the predicted trend of shared mobility. 

Furthermore, self-driving cars are able to use narrower driving lanes and maneuver better than existing cars, so parking spaces will be optimized to accommodate more cars. All the space that is currently used for parking could find new uses in smart cities. 

Connectivity Is Key

From a single traffic cone to the overall autonomous driving infrastructure – it’s all about connectivity. Have you noticed that no one mentions fuel when talking about autonomous vehicles? Well, that’s because gasoline wouldn’t matter as much as connectivity would.

Autonomous vehicles will bring tons of sensors and IoT devices to modern cities. The advanced 5G network will allow them to constantly receive and transmit huge amounts of data. Moreover, the steering wheel will be replaced by whatever the driver desires, which will produce more load on the network.

The Impact of 5G

5G might be the missing piece of the puzzle to make efficient autonomous vehicles. The network claims to be a hundred times faster than the current 4G. It’s expected that it would serve 40 percent of the world by 2024.

5G wireless technology would require extensive infrastructure. New fiber-optic cables will have to be placed throughout this new autonomous vehicle infrastructure. This will be helpful for future infrastructure changes for self-driving cars. The promise of this next-generation network to bring safer driverless cars could lead to a revolutionary development of smart cities. 

A New Life for Cities

Automotive vehicles won’t just change the way we travel, they will generally change the look of current infrastructure, not only in cities but on highways as well. The AV revolution might bring us to a future of smooth and predictable traffic and more efficient public transportation. 

City residents will have more free space to make use of. Moreover, there will be fewer risks for pedestrians and bicyclists as they have many concerns about urban areas. All of the benefits that autonomous vehicles together with smart cities could bring will improve millions of people’s quality of life while taking next-level care for the environment.  

Sophie Zoria - Written by Sophie Zoria, writer and IoT researcher, Freelance writer

Guest Writer
Guest Writer
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All.
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All.