1. Earlier this month, Mobileye, the Israeli and Dutch maker of advanced driver assistance technologies, claimed that self-driving cars “could be on the road by 2016.” Rather than Google cars’ array of radar, cameras, sensors and laser-based range finders, Mobileye wants to offer autonomous driving capability at a more affordable price point by using mainstream cameras that cost only a few hundred dollars.
Mobileye announced today that it is selling $400 million in equity to “five unaffiliated” financial investors, which include “some of the largest U.S.-based global institutional asset managers and a leading Chinese government-affiliated financial investor,” according to a statement released this morning. The transaction, which values the company at $1.5 billion (pre-money) and was overseen by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, is expected to close in August.
The newer version of Mobileye’s system that arrives this summer aims to help steer the car in stop-start situations, though drivers are still required to keep their hands on the wheel. Coming up next, and expected to be street-ready by 2013, is a more advanced system that will allow for hands-free driving.
Inner-city parking lots could become parks. Traffic lights could be less common because hidden sensors in cars and streets coordinate traffic. And, yes, parking tickets could become a rarity since cars would be smart enough to know where they are not supposed to be.
As scientists and car companies forge ahead — many expect self-driving cars to become commonplace in the next decade — researchers, city planners and engineers are contemplating how city spaces could change if our cars start doing the driving for us. There are risks, of course: People might be more open to a longer daily commute, leading to even more urban sprawl.
That city of the future could have narrower streets because parking spots would no longer be necessary. And the air would be cleaner because people would drive less. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 30 percent of driving in business districts is spent in a hunt for a parking spot, and the agency estimates that almost one billion miles of driving is wasted that way every year.
Harvard University researchers note that as much as one-third of the land in some cities is devoted to parking spots. Some city planners expect that the cost of homes will fall as more space will become available in cities. If parking on city streets is reduced and other vehicles on roadways become smaller, homes and offices will take up that space. Today’s big-box stores and shopping malls require immense areas for parking, but without those needs, they could move further into cities.
The Autonomous Intersection Management project, created by the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, imagines cities where traffic lights no longer exist but sensors direct the flow of traffic. Although a video showing off the automated traffic intersection looks like total chaos, the researchers insist that such intersections will reduce congestion and fuel costs and can allow cars to drive through cities without stopping.
Of course, getting to a utopian city will take a little longer than circling the block looking for a spot. A spokesman for Audi said a fully automated car would not be available until the end of the decade. And the regulatory issues to be addressed before much of this could come true are, to put it mildly, forbidding.