Around the world, technology companies, city planners, and automotive manufacturers are working independently and together to create solutions that will solve today’s issues for the city of tomorrow. Current urbanization trends predict that 70% of the population will live in urban centers by 2050. Identifying infrastructures to support the growing demand for efficient and environment-friendly surroundings include how transportation will operate within these urban centers. With the reality of connected and autonomous vehicle technology hitting the road, this will transform what future city centers will look like.

Intelligent vehicle technology will provide social, economic and environmental benefits to cities, some of which we are starting to see now. By optimizing traffic flows, building multi-modal transportation systems and developing interactive systems within the existing infrastructure, smart vehicles can bring several major benefits.

Leveraging real time data enables municipal departments to coordinate and adjust traffic flow, reducing congestion and vehicle emissions. With sensors in the traffic lights and cameras, they can note how many cars are at a light and adjust the timing and surrounding infrastructure to create a smoother experience and more efficient commute for travelers. By using the richer data captured on traffic flows, weather, parking, and road conditions, city management can improve system performance and minimize congestion.

Communication between personal transportation to other road users or the broader city infrastructure provides a mutual benefit—connected vehicles will share their planned route with its surroundings. Lights can adjust to cut down on waiting time, and the network can share information on where congestion may be occurring so the vehicle can determine the optimal route for its journey. Intelligent public transit and emergency vehicles could inform the network—and thus connected vehicles on the road—when to yield and allow them to pass by quicker. Examples for such communication concepts are DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication) or V2V/ V2X (Vehicle-to-Vehicle/Vehicle-to-Everything) technology. These smart-city strategies allow also better management of maintenance and scheduling transit repairs, utility and other key systems critical to public safety.

In the city of the future autonomous and connected vehicle technologies are expected to provide great benefits for the sick, elderly or lower income residents: greater and less expensive mobility will increase access to resources as well as jobs. Individuals unable to drive themselves due to ability or accessibility can chose between flexible and adjustable on-demand public transit or personalized transportation.

Once a vehicle brings its passenger to the destination, it can utilize information from the city’s grid to understand parking information, directions and billing automatically, thus saving the passenger time and reducing emissions from searching for the best parking spot. If the vehicle is part of a sharing program or fleet, it will be on the road throughout the day, reducing the demand for parking space. Typically, half of a building’s footprint is dedicated to parking. With a lower demand for that space, it can be better utilized for a growing city’s demand for housing, business, leisure or green space. 

To see these plans and possibilities on the road, city infrastructures and vehicles must collaborate.

Enabled by next-generation connectivity, high-speed networks will quickly transfer the large data amounts produced by sensors allowing real-time decision making. This allows city grids to understand how residents move around and which adjustments to make. Connected vehicles can break commuters out of their routines and spread the flow of traffic to the most optimal path and the smart infrastructure can help utilities predict maintenance needs. New sensor and connectivity technologies allow networks to manage increasingly complex functions not only faster and more effectively, but also more cost efficiently.

While decreasing costs of connectivity are accelerating the adoption of more intelligent systems, the implementation of them will require a city’s cooperation. A clear vision, continuous advocacy, strong leadership and solid capital is essential to begin and sustain the momentum of such projects. To successfully put these ideas into practice, municipalities must create strong connections with utilities and private entities to work together to reach respective goals.

The transportation industry is becoming something much larger—the mobility industry. With connected, autonomous and shared vehicles coming onto the roads and changing the experience with urban environments, city planners can repurpose previous vehicle-dedicated space for green space, biking lanes or housing. The infrastructure shift goes beyond helping the travel time of a single driver, instead positively impacting public transit and emergency needs, while reducing greenhouse emissions.