One of Townsend’s main themes is the spatial implications of automated vehicles, which could redraw cities. Roads could be narrower with AVs able to travel closer together, while the vast amount of land used for parking could be removed because AVs would be forever on the move, “storing themselves in perpetual motion”. You would no longer own a vehicle, but summon one when needed, like ordering a taxi.
Some readers will feel that Townsend has sketched out a future with vast possibilities; to others, it will seem like a nightmarish vision where robots effectively control our movement. Both groups, however, will learn a lot.
But, in fairness to the book, it assumes ‘we’ll either perfect self-driving technology, or there won’t be an AV industry to speak of’.
As it happens my favourite fact was about the past. The first self-driving vehicles were ships. A rope connected the sail to the tiller, tied in such a way that whenever the wind blew the ship one way, the rope pulled the tiller and steered it back the opposite way. Isn’t that wonderful?