Lon­don warned it is un­ready for ro­bot taxis and drone de­liv­er­ies

Business World - - TECHNOLOGY -

EUROPE’S largest city is a hot­bed of ideas to make get­ting around the me­trop­o­lis that lit­tle bit eas­ier — but it isn’t ready for them on the streets.

Lon­don’s reg­u­la­tors are un­pre­pared for the in­tro­duc­tion of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, de­liv­ery by drone and de­mand- re­spon­sive buses — all of which are on the hori­zon — the trans­port com­mit­tee of the Lon­don Assem­bly said in a re­port on Tues­day. The group ad­vis­ing the mayor on pol­icy com­pared the sit­u­a­tion to the on­go­ing trou­ble the city has in in­te­grat­ing car-hail­ing apps like the one from Uber Tech­nolo­gies, Inc. with its ex­ist­ing taxi fleet.

“The op­por­tu­nity to im­prove mo­bil­ity for mil­lions of Lon­don­ers is here, but it will re­quire proper plan­ning, trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity, as well as co­op­er­a­tion with gov­ern­ment, bor­oughs and de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies,” said Keith Prince, chair­man of the Lon­don Assem­bly Trans­port Com­mit­tee.

Lon­don is just one of many of the world’s megac­i­ties cop­ing with a tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion on the roads. Elec­tric cars are poised to spread quickly as ur­ban air pollution wors­ens, forc­ing au­thor­i­ties to clamp down on cars fu­eled by gaso­line and diesel. Buses run­ning on bat­ter­ies may make up 47% of the world’s fleet by 2025, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg New En­ergy Fi­nance. The Chi­nese city of Shen­zhen has al­ready switched its en­tire bus sys­tem to run on elec­tric­ity.

This break­neck speed of change pushed by tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies is rub­bing up against reg­u­la­tors ev­ery­where. Uber is one of the most in­fa­mous cases. When it didn’t com­ply with lo­cal laws on taxis on the grounds that it was a tech­nol­ogy com­pany in­stead of a taxi op­er­a­tor, France and Ger­many banned some of the app’s ser­vices. Lon­don pulled Uber’s li­cense to op­er­ate last year, and the is­sue re­mains un­re­solved.

The gov­ern­ment body re­spon­si­ble for the trans­port sys­tem known as TfL, was “caught nap­ping on the tech­nol­ogy front, and it’s time to wake up,” Mr. Prince said. “Uber, then oBike are two ex­am­ples of a poorly pre­pared reg­u­la­tor which seems to be mak­ing it up as they go along.”

Lon­don­ers will in­creas­ingly be look­ing for new ways to get from point A to B as tra­di­tional trans­port from the roads to the Un­der­ground get more crowded and slug­gish. Some op­tions that may emerge:


Hav­ing a com­puter at the wheel in­stead of a hu­man could lead to less traf­fic ac­ci­dents. But adding more cars on Lon­don’s roads would lead to even more con­ges­tion, the re­port said. Car shar­ing or au­ton­o­mous buses would be a bet­ter ad­di­tion than sim­ply re­plac­ing hu­man-driven cars with au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, the com­mit­tee rec­om­mends. It ex­pects to see wide­spread use of ro­bot-driven cars and buses by the 2030s.


Put­ting de­mand- re­spon­sive buses on the roads could fur­ther re­duce car use, es­pe­cially if they were used to plug gaps in the cur­rent trans­port net­work. This would re­quire the cre­ation and im­ple­men­ta­tion of a new dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture to an­a­lyze de­mand, plan routes and con­nect to com­muters.


De­liv­ery ma­chines that can both fly and nav­i­gate roads are un­der de­vel­op­ment. They could cut con­ges­tion as less trucks are used. Air­borne drones in par­tic­u­lar would need some kind of con­trol sys­tem in place that would also try to re­duce noise pollution, the re­port said.


A LON­DON black taxi­cab is driven along a street in cen­tral Lon­don on March 22, 2017.

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