Tucson could be an early adopter of self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles. That puts our region in the forefront of the new industry and of changes regarding Tucson commercial rental space.
There are two roles that Tucson will play as the use of smart vehicles grows.
That’s why I’m keenly interested in what the use of autonomous vehicles will look like both in our region and nationwide.
Our public and private sectors have launched several initiatives that focus on research and development into many aspects of automated transportation. This will concentrate the industry into a Southern Arizona hub of innovation.
On top of that, Tucson has a profile that makes it an ideal place to implement autonomous vehicle use. That will change the landscape of Tucson commercial rental space and attract companies that will depend on this technology to further their businesses.
Supporting Smart Vehicles and Intelligent Transportation
Tucson already is a natural hub for research and development of autonomous vehicles. Government, academia and industry have formed a Smart Vehicles and Intelligent Transportation (SVIT) partnership. It works to share resources, enhance commercialization efforts and provide a skilled workforce.
The elements that embrace eventual deployment locally and nationally is varied and far-reaching. Some were discussed at the group’s SWIFT Summit in January.
Infrastructure. Local and regional governments are investigating technology that help with traffic flow, particularly in managing traffic in sudden circulation challenges such as emergencies or special events. This includes improving telecommunications and signal coordination.
There also are discussions about adding both traditional and innovative traffic infrastructure to the region. For instance, technology that addresses the first mile/last mile issue of transportation from point to point may require new facilities such as scooter or bicycle ports.
Non-technical issues. Local governments also are looking at issues of equal access, environmental impacts, infrastructure costs and safe delivery systems.
Collaboration. The University of Arizona’s Transportation Research Institute gathers resources from eight UA colleges. It addresses not only technical research and implementation, but issues of government policy, safety, infrastructure planning, business management and user behavior.
Testing. The university, through Tech Parks Arizona, is working to identify and develop useful test beds, including a private racetrack and public streets within business parks.
Workforce. Both the university and Pima Community College are training the Tucson workforce needed for research, development, deployment and maintenance of the SVIT landscape. These include experts in engineering, mechatronics, autonomous-truck driving and cyber-security.
Deploying Smart Vehicles in Tucson
INRIX, a Seattle research firm focused on traffic, put together a 2017 study on the feasibility of deploying highly autonomous vehicles (HAV).
The firm looked at traffic patterns of the top 50 U.S. cities by population to seek out areas that had the profile that could lead to HAV early adoption and cost savings.
Tucson ranked third on the list behind New Orleans, Louisiana (no. 1) and Albuquerque, New Mexico (no. 2). Phoenix was put in the 27th spot.
The study recognizes the many short trips that Tucsonans make and the high concentration of intra-city traffic. Both driving habits encourage shared use of electric vehicles “where occupancy is maximized and vehicles are less likely to be stranded from charging infrastructure or limited in their utility by range limitations,” the report says.
There already is a lot of research and development activity in Tucson. TuSimple has a 50,000-square-foot production facility to house and test its fleet of autonomous trucks. Caterpillar continues to use its Southern Arizona proving grounds to test, improve and demonstrate its autonomous mining equipment.
Sensagrate has used Tucson streets as a test bed for its infrastructure-to-vehicle communications technology. Freefall, a company spun out of the University of Arizona, has developed advanced antenna technology for vehicle connectivity.
Changes in Tucson Commercial Rental Space
Generally, large parking lots may disappear while dedicated drop-off and pick-up points will increase as people reduce driving of their own vehicles. That land for parking can be recovered for expansion or made available for new buildings to lease or buy.
Some companies already are preparing for this by building parking structures with high ceilings and in ways that allow ramps to be removed. That makes it easier to convert the structure into a building.
Retail businesses selling goods also will need much less parking for their customers, but more space for fulfillment as autonomous vehicles are loaded and then return after making deliveries. Manufacturers also may demand such facilities for logistics and transportation operations.
Additional facilities and businesses will emerge to store and maintain these vehicles.
Businesses whose employees, customers and clients are likely to use autonomous vehicles will be attracted to Tucson commercial rental space where on- and off-boarding facilities are nearby, much like how some businesses prefer to be near public transportation stops.
I can envision cities like Tucson having more compact business districts as autonomous vehicles reduce the need to be close to customers. This changes the consideration when finding a location for Tucson commercial rental space.
There is a lot of energy and deliberate strategy in Tucson to address the entire ecosystem for smart vehicles, intelligent freight and other autonomous transportation. I believe it will be a leader in this industry.