Driving Toward a Transformation in Vehicles and Traffic

Dr. Larry Burns is a car guy who leveraged his love of driving into a job as a General Motors vice president, but his Wednesday morning keynote speech described a future where far fewer people own private vehicles. Shared vehicles that drive themselves are a big part of this future, which could begin coming into view at the end of this decade.

As he opened the second day of IPC APEX EXPO®, Dr. Burns laid out a compelling case for using shared vehicles in urbanized areas. Even during rush hours, only around 15 percent of vehicles in a typical urban area are on the road. When they are used, these vehicles often travel just a few miles.

Dr. Burns, who’s now a professor and consultant who focuses on autos, feels that driverless cars are the centerpiece of a pending transformation in the transportation industry. They can reduce the risk of accidents, which means they can be smaller and lighter.

Driverless cars also let drivers be productive while they’re in vehicles, since drivers don’t have to look at the road or hold the wheel. That’s something he’s already gotten used to as a member of Google’s driverless car program.

Going further, Dr. Burns explained how people in urban areas won’t have to buy cars. Instead, they can use ride-sharing, ordering driverless vehicles that will come to their home and take them to their destination with less waiting than ordering a taxi.

Congestion can also be eliminated. Dr. Burns showed a video of cars maneuvering through a large intersection without stopping, which got big laughs from audience members accustomed to stoplights at busy intersections.

This transformation won’t happen overnight, but it does seem fairly likely to happen. Dr. Burns noted that IPC members can be major participants as more engineers put more electronics inside the car, and a support infrastructure arises to handle large volumes of data generated in this brave new world of transportation.


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