Austin is already planning for the future of autonomous vehicles, according to SXSW panel


Autonomous vehicles may be closer than residents think, according to a South By Southwest Conference & Festivals Interactive panel titled, “How Cities will Drive Autonomous Vehicles.”

Representatives from Austin, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. joined the panel on Monday and discussed how autonomous vehicles give cities the opportunity to revise their infrastructure.

“Austin’s really eager for this new technology to take place in our city,” said Rob Spillar, Austin’s transportation director. “When we think about automation, we think about how we can solve our affordability issues here in Austin, how can we solve our congestion and mobility issues, how we can put people in direct contact with opportunities for greater lifestyle.”

Other Texas cities like Plano and Frisco have also prioritized planning for autonomous vehicles.

The city of Austin staff is mindful of the disruptions that come with autonomous vehicles, Spillar said, including to jobs, parking and use of space downtown. He said the city is working with schools and organizations to help train residents for new technologies with the goal of mitigating those disruptions.


“My fear is that cities won’t be given the time to innovate and coordinate,” Spillar said, adding that technologists and cities will need to work together to get through the period of disruption.

Spillar said a perfect autonomous vehicle roll out for Austin would mean that Austin already had lanes and other infrastructure, making the city able to “seamlessly integrate automated vehicles” into networks and environment.

Karina Ricks, director of Pittsburgh’s department of mobility and infrastructure, said cities get an opportunity to redesign their transportation systems about every 80 years. Autonomous vehicles may provide that next opportunity.

“As communities, we have the opportunity to help companies solve [transportation]problems,” Spillar said. “This is an exciting time in the transportation industry.”

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Tara Pohlmeyer
Tara began her tenure at Community Impact Newspaper as a digital content producer in August 2016, before becoming the company's engagement coordinator in October 2017. She works with editorial staff members to help create web stories, solicit reader feedback and promote content, as well as manages newsletters, analytics and videography needs for the company. Sometimes, she writes. Tara graduated from Texas State University in May 2016 with a bachelor's degree in electronic media and served as station manager for KTSW-FM 89.9.
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