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This Toyota Scientist Is Wrong About Urban Sprawl And Self-Driving Cars

Illustration for article titled This Toyota Scientist Is Wrong About Urban Sprawl And Self-Driving Cars

Ken Laberteaux is a senior principal scientist for Toyota North America, and he's convinced that self-driving cars will increase pollution, exacerbate urban sprawl, and ruin our families. I'm pretty sure there's something in there about killing kittens too, but I may have missed it in his haze of pessimistic, contrarian bullshit.

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At this week's Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco, Laberteaux took to the stage to point out a series of hypothetical consequences of a world with autonomous vehicles, and how faster commute times will appeal to humans baser, selfish instincts.

"U.S. history shows that anytime you make driving easier, there seems to be this inexhaustible desire to live further from things," Laberteaux is quoted by Bloomberg. "The pattern we've seen for a century is people turn more speed into more travel, rather than maybe saying 'I'm going to use my reduced travel time by spending more time with my family.'"

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Sure, some people will use their car's newfangled abilities to justify a larger McMansion out in the sticks, but those people are likely the exception, particularly since we're seeing an increase in people moving to urban areas, not out of them.

Laberteaux also glazes over the fact that widespread autonomous vehicle adoption would reduce congestion with dedicated lanes and road trains making better use of our overtaxed infrastructure, not to mention increasing fuel economy since broad swaths of the population won't be idling in cars for hours on end.

He also fails to mention that people using their cars as appliances – say, Camry drivers – might not see the need to own a vehicle anymore, and instead opt for some kind of car-sharing scheme that would provide an autonomous ride on-demand, thus reducing the overall number of vehicles on the road.

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But the real crux of Laberteaux's comments is that, in his words, "We've created an entire culture and economy based on the notion that transportation is cheap." But that's changing. There are a multitude of reasons why young people might not be interested in cars, but expense is certainly near the top of that list.

Add in the (admittedly over-hyped) concept of mega-cities, and using U.S. history as a guide for how a massively disruptive technology launched in a completely new environment starts to look not only shortsighted, but surprisingly unscientific – particularly for a scientist.

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DISCUSSION

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But the real crux of Laberteaux's comments is that, in his words, "We've created an entire culture and economy based on the notion that transportation is cheap." But that's changing. There are a multitude of reasons why young people might not be interested in cars, but expense is certainly near the top of that list.

He's not wrong.

The US IS built around the car. There are vast areas where one cannot travel without owning an automobile. And for some people in those areas the cost of owning said vehicle isn't even a factor. They MUST have one in order to get to work, to to get to where they can buy food, to get to where their friends and relatives live, to get to anywhere else other than their home.

Right or wrong, this is how the US functions. Making travel more expensive will only price those already barely making a living (due to a wide variety of other factors; wage stagnation the immediate culprit) out of their vehicles and into poverty. Unless you actually buy into the whole, "Everyone should learn to code!" BS that's floating around. Not everyone is good at those skills, and not everyone is capable of learning how to make their living from home, and to run their business themselves.

Unless the entire US is forced to move to an urban area with cheap mass-transit, there will ALWAYS bee the need to inexpensive transportation.