Ann Arbor is planning to become America’s first city with a shared network of driverless cars – and it could happen as early as 2021. The Mobility Transformation Center (UMTRI), an initiative involving government, industry and university representatives at the University of Michigan, has set a goal to become a leader in 21st century mobility. The connected vehicle experiment is moving along right now with 3,000 participating residents, but by 2021, the system could herald a new era of transportation by reducing car-crash deaths and fuel consumption in downtown Ann Arbor.

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1.2 million people die in car crashes every year, a sobering number that the UMTRI team hope to drastically reduce. “Why are we living in a society where we’re willing to tolerate car crashes?” asks Peter Sweatman, director of UMTRI. “Humans are not suited to monitoring tasks like driving [because] human attention is easily diverted.” In addition to saving lives, driverless vehicles also save fuel since cars that aren’t designed to withstand a crash can be lighter weight and cities can be designed to accommodate them. Driverless vehicles also accelerate and decelerate more efficiently than humans, which further contributes to fuel savings.

“Ann Arbor will be seen as the leader in 21st-century mobility. We want to demonstrate fully driverless vehicles operating within the whole infrastructure of the city within an eight-year timeline and to show that these can be safe, effective and commercially successful,” said Sweatman.

So what would a driverless fleet look like in a city? Users would request a ride using a smartphone; a driverless vehicle would then show up, give them a ride, and head off to the next passenger. Rather than wasting time sitting in a parking lot, the car will be able to keep moving, reducing the number of cars needed. Driverless fleets can even be electric, which brings us ever closer to a future with no car crashes, no massive parking lots and less smog.


images via UM and Roman Boed