The new era of a broad ecosystem of vehicles

In 2050, people’s attitude to their vehicles is changing, and the idea of a single-family car has become obsolete. Instead, we have a broad ecosystem of vehicles with different form factors. For one, we use cars in a more efficient way. Cars of the past had four to five seats. The reason for that, of course, was that if you owned a vehicle, you had to plan for peak usage, i.e. when you had all the family with you. The reality was oversized five-seaters that were occupied on average by 1.7 people. Wasn’t that absurd? For instance, an SUV weighing over 1500 kilograms was used to carry around 100 kg at best. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are changing that, as they can be easily shared. You can wake up in the morning and have “your” car give you a lift to work and then, rather than sitting idle in a parking lot, give a lift to someone else in your family—or to anyone else in your neighborhood or city. In short, they can provide mobility on demand: when you need one seat, you get exactly that – and when you need five, you just press a different button. There is a proliferation of vehicle form factors at the lower end of the vehicle spectrum - a kind of micro-mobility that we are already seeing on our roads with Mobikes, shareable e-bikes, e-scooters such as Bird and Lime, and so on… There is also an increase in larger vehicles, that could act as Uber-pooling systems. Think about big minivans, for instance, 8-seaters, that allow people to share rides. Our research at the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has shown that in such a way fleets could be cut significantly – which results in potentially fewer vehicles moving through our cities. In short, the rise of AVs and the increase in sharing give us vehicle biodiversity, allowing us to move around in more sustainable and efficient ways.