Self-Driving Public Transportation: How is it going to change the way we travel?

| By Editorial Staff

Roughly 100 years ago, the world’s culture shifted dramatically when horse-and-man-power transportation gave way to the internal combustion engine. Suddenly, it took far less effort – and time – to get from Point A to Point B.

As cars have advanced in design and function, the speed in which we travel has been able to keep up with the speed in which we live.

But that’s not to say that modern-day travel isn’t without its drawbacks. Pollution, gridlock, preventable accidents and, of course, deaths, are all things we’ve learned to accept as part of this incredible freedom known as driving.

But is all that about to change?

Self-driving cars have been getting a lot of attention in recent years, as companies such as Google figure out how to perfect the careful balance between technology and safety. But the concept is nothing new. From the NavLab5 (a 1990 Pontiac Trans Sport driven with the use of robots in 1995 from Pittsburgh to L.A.) to the many challenges and races Darpa has staged for autonomous vehicles, we’ve long been obsessed with taking our hands off the wheel.

And while the concept of a self-driving car is exciting, will it really change the way we travel? Won’t we still just get into our cars, punch in our coordinates, and grind our way through traffic to get to our destinations?

Part of the problem with our current transportation culture is we, particularly here in America, love our cars. And while electric and hybrid cars may help cut down on pollution, they do little to ease congestion.

Public transportation, on the other hand, can both address pollution and gridlock. The problem is, not too many people are willing and eager to jump on an overcrowded (often smelly) train or bus, and sit through endless stops just to make it to work, the dentist, or the store.

But it’s possible Olli by Local Motors will help us overcome our fear of public transportation.

Olli by Local Motors is a self-driving electric vehicle designed to hold multiple people and can serve a variety of roles, including:

  • An on-campus shuttle (for businesses and colleges)
  • Taxi cab through cities and towns
  • Shuttle

Olli by Local Motors is interesting because it doesn’t necessarily introduce brand-new technology to the marketplace. The team at Local Motors, including Edgar Andres Sarmiento Garcia (whose original design sparked what has become Olli) took existing technological concepts and asked themselves: how we can use this to address a public need?

On their quest to differentiate Olli from other autonomous vehicles, Local Motors looked at current trends and audience behavior. It’s what led them to introduce an Uber-like approach to their product: Anyone with a smartphone can set pick-up and drop-off locations, and pay, through a mobile app.

The marketplace has already proven ready for rideshare services like Lyft and Uber. By merging both this concept with self-driving public transportation, Local Motors may have very well created the next big shift in transportation.

But what would that shift look like?

If self-driving public transportation does, indeed, take off, how will this change the way we travel?

Every city will be the city that never sleeps

New York City is known as the city that never sleeps, mainly because its public transportation system never shuts down. Being a city of more than 10 million people, many of whom don’t have cars, NYC can afford to run their transit system 24 hours (although even their system isn’t a tremendous money generator).

Thanks to the advent of self-driving public transportation, we can expect all public transit to be 24-hours and non-stop. This could, very possibly, change the landscape of cities across America.

Door-to-door service

One of the issues people have with public transportation is that it’s often not that convenient. A train might drop you off 10 blocks from your location, meaning you have to walk those last few steps.

But in the future, when autonomous mass transit becomes the standard, services like Olli by Local Motors, in conjunction with trains and buses, will make virtually any point on the map directly accessible.

Driving will become a recreational sport

Few people today consider their relationship with driving as positive – or even a stress reliever. But as self-driving public transportation takes us to work, back home, and to all of our errands, we’ll eventually yearn for those brief moments where we can unleash on the open road. Expect recreational driving to become a billion-dollar industry, where people will, in fact, pay to drive non-autonomous cars on closed-circuit tracks (think like go-carts).

The demand for self-driving transportation is growing – who’ll help lead the charge?

The growth of interest in self-driving vehicles highlights an interesting part of innovation: balancing the bells and whistles with actual purpose.

While it’s important to push the envelope and rethink what’s possible, at the same time the most successful innovators sit back and ask themselves: can this product actually have a role in society?

In the case of Olli by Local Motors, the jury is still out. But it’s safe to assume self-driving public transportation is an inevitability. Someone will come out of this as a de facto leader in the field.

Who will it be?