Pages of magazines and television screens have been filled with images of automated cars driving the streets Metro Phoenix. These autonomous vehicles use artificial intelligence (AI) to learn the streets and driving patterns to drive to and from their destinations. 

It’s easy to imagine how autonomous vehicles will impact the individual — without having to dedicate their focus to driving, they will have more time to read, work, sleep, communicate or play video games while they are traveling to and from the places they need to be. But how will autonomous vehicles impact commercial real estate development? A panel of experts at Valley Partnership’s March breakfast tried to answer that question Friday at Phoenix Country Club. The panel included Timothy Papandreou, strategic partnerships manager for Waymo/Google; Victor Irizarry, associate and senior designer at Gensler; Bryan Maddock, designer at Gensler; Jeff Moloznik, vice president development at RED Development; and Kini Knudson, assistant street transportation director for the City of Phoenix.

“All these changes are happening now and they are all impacted by changes and improvements in technology,” said Irizarry. “The automobile as we know it will be a dinosaur by 2030. We all need to suspend disbelief for a bit to imagine how autonomous vehicles will change our world.”

One way autonomous vehicles will cause a major change in development is based on a reduced need for parking. With autonomous vehicles dropping people off at their destination and no need to park, a whole new world opens.

“There are more than 800 million parking spaces in the United States,” said Knudson. “We are giving our cities away to parking spaces. With autonomous vehicles, parking spaces become an archaic idea.”

With that in mind, here are some of the major ways this new technology will impact commercial real estate development:

• Developers will be able to focus on an improved customer experience. Without the need to devote a large chunk of capital to parking, developers will be able to use that capital to create a higher-efficiency workplace and better customer experience.

• With human error — which causes 93 percent of traffic accidents — taken out of the equation, developers will be able to reshape or lane and road widths, resulting in more usable land.

• The need for underground parking will become obsolete, as will parking structures that feature ramps. Be removing the ramps and slopes of parking structures and utilizing a system where cars enter from the sides of the structure instead of from the base floor, those structures will be able to be repurposed when they become obsolete because of the rise of autonomous vehicle use. 

“Think of all technologies that have caused disruptions — the first iPhone, Uber,” said Maddock. “Those technologies changed the world. This is just the latest disruptive technology.”