What Could Off-Road AV Technology Mean for Urban Street Design?

Land Rover has just announced Cortex, their investment in off-road AV technology, and Wired summarized the project in a recent article.

Outdoors enthusiasts have expressed skepticism in people’s willingness to give up conventional vehicles since it would mean losing the ability to adventure in places that are only accessible by rough, unpredictable roads. So far, experts hypothesize that AV technology will need a highly controlled road space with smooth surfaces and freshly painted markings, but this clearly poses challenges to adoption since many roads, even in cities, don’t fit these criteria.

While AVs capable of all-terrain navigation are obviously useful for reaching a favorite mountain hike, they could also provide additional benefits in more developed areas. For example, shared streets could become easier to implement since clearly designated lane markings wouldn’t be needed to keep the vehicles on track. Cities could change up the street space by adding planters or street furniture without requiring navigational software updates for all the cars in town. Plus, cities could save a lot of money if roads don’t need to be maintained in pristine conditions all the time.

There is one last benefit to more adventure-ready AVs. If people no longer need to hold on to their conventional cars for their outdoor adventures, the transition to a fully automated vehicle stock could happen sooner, meaning cities will exist in the confusing transition period for less time.

Steph Nappa is a Master’s Candidate in Community and Regional Planning and an Urbanism Next Fellow at the University of Oregon.  She is examining how to re-design city streets to prioritize bicycles, pedestrians and transit in an era of autonomous vehicles.

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One comment

  1. Gary R. Collins, AIA

    Why start with the assumption that roads, as heretofore conceived, must remain the paradigm? The current fascination with AV is a distraction; it fails to challenge the basic model of an intracity road system amicable to ordinary cars and trucks, albeit self-driving ones. It doesn’t alter the systemic issue of sprawl and over-extended infrastructure, or the alienation of pedestrians or general hostility of vehicular streets to people – people of all ages and abilities. The discussion needs to be redirected to redesigning livable cities at higher densities and with constrained infrastructure. It does little to genetically re-engineer the corpuscles of a circulatory system if the system itself is dysfunctional.

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