INDEX: Is the Google Car "a design to improve life"?

Google car
© Google Car via INDEX

TreeHugger is covering the INDEX awards, celebrating the idea of "Design to Improve Life". This post covers one of the 46 finalists chosen from 1,123 entries.

Google is a dominant force in the INDEX awards this year, with everything from Google cardboard to Smart contact lenses. The Google Car certainly needs no introduction to TreeHugger readers, many of whom would have questions about the description, emphasis mine:

We drink. We doze. We text. In the US, 30,000 people die from automobile accidents every year, and car crashes are the primary cause of death worldwide for people aged 15 – 24. We’re flawed organisms, driving around at high speeds in vessels covered in glass, metal, distraction and death. This is one of Google’s “moonshots” – to remove human error from a job that for the past hundred years has been entirely human. Aside from safety reasons, the Google Self-Driving Car has the capacity to restore driving autonomy to the disabled and elderly – not to mention how it could transform our daily schedules, especially those with long or frequent commutes.

That's just touching the surface of it. We have been looking at the Google Car in terms of its impact on our communities, on urban design and planning. This could be a design to improve life, or it could be a design that does the opposite for many. The big concern is that it makes commuting so much more comfortable; as Allison Arieff wrote in the New York Times:

If you can read your iPad, enjoy a cocktail or play a video game while commuting, time spent in the car becomes leisure time, something desirable. Long commutes are no longer a disincentive. America’s car-dependent culture has been encouraged (and subsidized) for the last half-century; instead of bucking that trend, a driverless car culture remains car-dependent.

It's seriously controversial; Here is a roundup of our recent posts on the subject, looking at the implications.

Self-driving cars could be serious job-killers

When TreeHugger first looked at self-driving cars in 2011 they didn't even have a name yet; I was part of a group studying them at the Institute without Boundaries, and we called them "sustainable mobility vehicles." We didn't see them hitting the road in quantity until 2040 but one thing was clear already: since cars are parked 90% of the time it made much more sense to share a self driving car than to own it. That meant we need a lot fewer cars; one shared car presently takes between 10 and 15 cars off the road. More in TreeHugger

What is the future of the self-driving car? Some car experts discuss

Future of carsAmerica's Electric Light and Power Companies ad/Promo image

The idea of an autonomous, or self-driving car has fascinated people for decades, but finally has us in its headlights. Its implications might be huge, like this ad from the fifties promises: "highways will be made safe- by electricity! No traffic jams... no collisions... no driver fatigue." Or it may be a disaster, a license to sprawl. We have given it a lot of coverage, thinking that it might affect our cities and urban development patterns as much as the conventional car did. We have talked to a lot of planning experts and urban design theorists, but Clint Henderson of PartCatalog has talked to about a dozen automotive experts to get their view of the future of the autonomous vehicle. More in TreeHugger

Who needs transit when you've got the Google Car coming down the road?
Gosling in google carDrive meets Google Car/Promo image

Why conservatives love the google car:

Though many predict networks of AVs [autonomous vehicles] will be publicly financed, they can also be privately owned, and by most projections will require far less government-funded infrastructure than rail. Unlike trains or buses, they’ll take you wherever you want to go, when you want to go there, alone if you wish. Driverless cars will, in many of the ways so central to American identity, still be cars.

More in TreeHugger

How self-driving cars might change our cities

The New Yorker's tech issue includes a fascinating article by Burkhard Bilger that asks "has the self-driving car at last arrived?" It is mostly about car technology that nerds will love, but the really interesting thing about the autonomous car is what it will do to our cities. I have previously written that "the autonomous car will likely be shared, smaller, lighter, slower, and there will likely be about a tenth as many of them." More on TreeHugger

PAT on exhibit in TorontoMiles Keller/CC BY 2.0

Beyond The Car: PAT Is An Autonomous, Shared Vision of The Future of Transportation

Last November, I was part of a charrette at the Institute without boundaries that was asked to "Imagine a new sustainable mobility vehicle and a new future for the automobile-manufacturing sector beyond the car." It was one of the most inspiring exercises I ever participated in, watching industry experts, talented designers and incredibly talented students putting together not just a vehicle design but an entire system of transportation.

More: Beyond The Car: PAT Is An Autonomous, Shared Vision of The Future of Transportation

Will "Driverless Cars Increase Tensions in Cities and Suburbs Alike"?

Untitled from The Atlantic Cities on Vimeo.

As a cyclist, I look forward to autonomous cars that actually pay attention to who is around them, that go at the speed limit and don't make right hand turns without looking in the mirror. There are also some other side effects that will be so positive for cities and suburbs alike; as noted in Beyond the Car: Envisioning a New "Sustainable Mobility Vehicle", they will likely be shared, smaller, lighter, slower, and there will likely be about a tenth as many of them. That is something that everyone can benefit from.

More: Will "Driverless Cars Increase Tensions in Cities and Suburbs Alike"?

How the self-driving car might make our cities better and greener

TreeHugger has been following the development of autonomous cars like the the Google Self-driving car, but what are the urban planning and design implications of it? At NRDC Switchboard, Kaid Benfield and Lee Epstein wonder if automating the car will make life (and the environment) better. They are not convinced.

More: How the self-driving car might make our cities better and greener

Related Content on