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Preparing for driverless cities

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Nicola Byrne

Full-scale commercial adoption of self-driving cars is predicted to be a decade away and many are preparing for the inevitable driverless world.

Autonomous vehicle tests are increasingly prevalent on our streets with the likes of Uber, Google spin-off Waymo, Lyft, General Motors and obviously Tesla driving it forward.

The effect on property will be significant and autonomous vehicles will play a big role in the way our cities are reshaped. This was very much a well-discussed theme at FUTURE: PropTech in London earlier this month.

One of the key areas that autonomous vehicles will affect is transport and therefore parking. Car parks take up a great deal of our ever-dwindling space – some would argue ineffectively. So, what changes should we anticipate seeing?

Autonomous vehicles are predicted to give us the opportunity to be dropped off wherever we need to go and then find a car park until we’re ready to be picked back up again. This could lead to no longer having the struggle of finding a place to park in busy city centres, and that we may see movement of these spaces to further afield in less congested areas.

As a result, there will be prime locations available for development in areas where it was previously at full capacity. This could also lead to areas, that were previously seen as a bit of a ‘black spot’ to live in due to long commute times to the city centre, to flourish and completely change the market as we know it.

Cities will also have to develop suitable drop-off points and to do this successfully will be difficult, as transport planner Martin Wedderburn, argued: “There’s a lot of hype about how it’s going to be great but if you want to see the realities of lots of people being dropped off and picked up at once, go to an airport or go to a major railway station and look, and that gives an impression of the challenges they will be facing. A pay by mile or similar road pricing will probably be a required prerequisite for autonomous vehicles”.

Currently, if you want to park somewhere, you might be traditional and pay with cash, or you’ll pay by phone or book in advance using an app. So how are the companies that manage these platforms going to adapt to the driverless world?

JUSTPARK Iphone Mac Screenshot

Harry Lal, is head of commercial property at JustPark, a technology platform that matches drivers with car parking spaces. He believes: “It’s important to think about what else you can provide within a car park, and we’re already highlighting this through our app by showing the availability of space which will potentially have an electric charger for example or if it’s secure [such as manned or behind a barrier]. We collect a lot of data on our parking spaces which enable us to identify and locate those cars to those spaces.

“Essentially in a driverless world, these cars are going to need to know when spaces are available and how long they’re going to be available. We’ve also introduced predicted availability for our spaces. We show a percentage probability of whether you’re likely to find a space in that area and can locate drivers to those spaces based on what the chances of you being able to find a space are. I think it’s going to take time before we’re in the world of driverless cars, but for now it’s about optimising spaces that are available and using data to do that.”

If you’re a frequent driver you may have heard of AppyParking before – an app that shows in real-time the availability of parking in 11 major cities in the UK. Jack Taylor, head of operations at AppyParking, explained: “The app is really 5-10% of what we’re actually doing. We’re really a data company and what we’re doing is we’re mapping the streets in what we call ‘high definition’.

“It’s effectively taking all the paint on the streets whether that’s singular yellow lines, double yellow lines, red routes, all the signage from restrictions, and tariff information of all types. We take that information, we map it ourselves, and then we build that into our own internal mapping system which creates a 3D digital layer of the streets over the top of the existing road network.”

AppyParking have their eyes set on the future with their Last Meter Navigation. Jack explains: “The ultimate aim for this data is to make autonomous vehicles legal at curb-side. If you can imagine an autonomous vehicle today, a [Tesla] Model S for example, that could quite easily park outside my house completely, autonomously at the moment. The thing it can’t do is it doesn’t know whether it can or can’t park there. It can’t interact with the curb, it doesn’t know what time of the day it is with regards to the restrictions on the curb. It doesn’t know if it has to pay, how much it costs, it doesn’t know how to interact with the payment system. What we’re doing is building a digital platform for autonomously connected vehicles to interact with the curb side.”

The future of autonomous vehicles and how it’s going to affect car parking and in turn affect the property industry is still uncertain but the momentum towards driverless vehicles is certainly becoming increasingly important, and the many companies working on it are worth keeping a close eye on.

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