City streets filled with safer, automated or self-driving vehicles would come with an unexpected price tag: fewer organ donations because of reduced traffic fatalities, said Julie Lorenz, discussing the promise and paradox of evolving transportation technology.
“If you look back in history, it can help you think about the future,” said Lorenz, strategic consultant for Kansas City-based engineering and architectural firm Burns & McDonnell.
Lorenz –– who also serves as co-chair of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s transportation Big 5 initiative –– presented her thoughts on autonomous vehicles this week to an audience at the IEEE International Smart Cities Conference in Kansas City.
“When elevators were introduced, folks were really afraid of them,” she said, drawing parallels to the changing face of transportation. “There were elevator operators because people didn’t understand how to just walk in and press a button, but also they liked the human element of somebody managing that.”
As self-driving cars roll into the market, consumers will be faced with a similar challenge: letting go of the human touch behind the wheel — whether that be themselves or a taxi or Uber driver.
“It’s emblematic of how we manage change in our lives — both at a professional level and on a personal level,” Lorenz said of the future. “There are many upsides to automated vehicles. There are some downsides too.”
Behind the scenes, tech jobs could develop to cushion the blow for taxi, bus and ride-sharing service drivers who find themselves put out of work by the developing technology.
The potentially negative implications of autonomous driving range from motion sickness to more congestion as self-driving vehicles more accurately pack into tight spaces on roadways, Lorenz cited.
As the landscape of transportation changes, autonomous driving will be adopted generationally, she said. Millennials are more likely to seamlessly adapt to autonomous driving than older generations, Lorenz added.
“The work that we do, it’s really about people. It’s about trying to make lives better,” she said, her note of encouragement to those who struggle to accept the idea of evolved transportation.
With an intricate infrastructure at play, there’s no definitive date on the horizon for when autonomous driving will park itself as a daily routine, Lorenz said.
Ever-accelerating, reliable driverless tech could cruise into reality as early as 2050, she hypothesized.