Academic journal article Human Ecology

DRIVERLESS FUTURE: Auto Plan Earns Final Four Spot at International Competition

Academic journal article Human Ecology

DRIVERLESS FUTURE: Auto Plan Earns Final Four Spot at International Competition

Article excerpt

Professor Denise Ramzy's Disruptive Design Competition Studio often asks students to think outside of the box. Last spring, Lily Shi '17 M.S. '18, Yodai Yasunaga '17 and Jiaming Zhang '17 M.S. '18 did not just step beyond their right-angled confines--they turned the whole thing upside down.

As part of Ramzy's studio, the students entered a competition to develop a strategy for densely populated urban landscapes to embrace a driverless future. The challenge was specific to New York City, and the competition received entries from more than 25 countries. Shi, Yasunaga and Zhang's idea finished among the final four.

The students' idea, called "Urban Oasis," used driverless technology to address a critical issue: "food deserts" in densely populated and underserved areas. Their concept developed a way to route fresh, high-quality food from farm to table by utilizing a fleet of green, autonomous and trackable vehicles.

Before settling on "Urban Oasis," the students toyed with other concepts, including how to best utilize a driverless future's newly empty parking lots or how to use autonomous cars to connect modes of transport. Both things that competitors focused on.

"Our students thought of all of those ideas and then decided that what was really interesting was to say, 'Let's make sure that it doesn't alienate people. Let's make sure this is human-centered,'" said Ramzy of the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis. "It was a lovely way of turning the brief on its head."

And it was a lovely way, too, of honoring DEA's mission to craft a built environment that improves people's lives. For Yasunaga, that was the best part of the project.

"My favorite part about 'Urban Oasis' is that it takes a human-centered approach to something so inhuman as autonomous cars," he said. …

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