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A Near-future Look at Local Tourism
Patty Civalleri -- Italy Travel Books Patty Civalleri -- Italy Travel Books
Long Beach, CA
Friday, March 6, 2020


By Patty Civalleri




How Can Driverless Cars Help Visitors to Navigate Difficult Cities?


Travel today is incredible, what with a jumbo-jet-sized array of transportation options. We can find our way between large cities via train, plane, car, ship, and bus. Once you have reached a major hub, you can branch out to more remote locations via bus, car, and boat. From there, you can go as far out into the hinterlands as your lungs and muscles can carry you, assisted perhaps by a mule, a llama, a camel, or a kayak.

Additionally, we can now travel into the past as we can see in an ancient city like Rome. Sites in Rome are now using 3d Virtual Reality to enable visitors to sit in the middle of an archaeological ruin and watch as marble pillars and statues rise all around them. Frescoes suddenly cover the walls all around and the ceiling overhead. And beautiful mosaics eloquently cover the floor beneath their feet. Not only can we travel laterally, but into the dimension of time as well. The past.

So, the question remains, where can't we go today that may require future technology to get us there? Or, how can future of transportation technology improve our experience once we arrive at our destination?

There are very few places left in the world that we can't explore during a 1-3-week vacation, which we have proved in the past 75 years. So perhaps we'll look at how future technology in transportation can get us there faster, more comfortably, or cheaper.

One area that I have considered profoundly is local tourism. As an author in the travel space, I enjoy thinking about ways to improve the experience for visitors. And as driverless cars begin to come on the scene, I can't help but extend the thinking into the future ramifications of driverless cars as an adjunct to the travel industry.

One of the more difficult places to visit is the Southern California area. Vastly spread out like frosting over a house-sized cake, it is fraught with transportation issues unlike most other cities in the world. So, I dream about what it could be like once driverless technology becomes synonymous with bicycles.

For those that live in the greater Los Angeles area, it is part of our mindset to avoid the freeways unless it is absolutely necessary. We try to time our outings onto the San Diego freeway to occur during off-peak hours. Although that is not always possible, we do spend a lot of effort on timing our excursions. This means that we don't venture around this very active county unless we have more than one person in the car (carpool lane use), or we can make our trip on the weekend, or we simply let someone else drive so that we don't have to bear the stress burden. And if you are a tourist in Los Angeles, well, go with the Gods, because life on our freeways can be daunting.

Services like Uber & Lyft have begun to ease that burden a trifle. Still, with the advent of driverless vehicles, I see these services as being a temporary solution to the myriad of transportation issues in this humongous landscape.

Considering these factors makes Los Angeles an interesting place to reboot the concept of local tourism – at least regarding transportation. There is so much to do over this great expanse of sunny, beachy, deserty landscape, but the ability to do them on one's own fills one with trepidation.


To Tomorrow… and BEYOND!

I am not, nor have I ever been considered a futurist; ergo, I will stick to the area that is fun to daydream about: the near future. And this is how it plays out in my driverless dream as a tourist experience.

From my hotel room, I order a driverless vehicle through an app. Since these vehicles are on a constant-roam schedule, there always seems to be one around when I need it. Because of the high demand for them, they are used many times each day by the consuming public. Many households in the SoCal area have opted out of personal car ownership because of the convenience of these fleets of always-available cars, thus freeing up the traffic congestion on the highways and streets. The automated cars now dominate the roadways and remain on the road until it is time for a recharge or a cleaning when they go back to the closest "auto stable" to juice up, shine up, and hit the road again. Always in use.

A few minutes later, a rectangular vehicle silently makes its approach to my hotel front, signaling my phone as it nears. My traveling friends and I gather outside the hotel just as the vehicle pulls onto the property.

The first thing I notice as I approach the vehicle and one of the doors open is the fact that I can stand full height inside the car. Perhaps if I was 6-feet tall, this might be a bit more difficult. I peer into the bright, fully-windowed – and optionally curtained - seating area. The inside of the vehicle is furnished with beautifully upholstered benches along and the sides and the rear. A table with cup holders spans the center of the vehicle, creating an ideal environment for easy conversation among the occupants. In the center of the table, a removable piece of wood that hides a sink with running water. The sink can also be used as an ice bowl to cool the refreshments. Under the table is a refrigerator/freezer. And toward the front is a microwave oven. Cabinets below the table handle loose items such as plates, cups, blankets, trash receptacle, etc.

A small cabinet-sized door in the front leads through to a small area. This area has a screened window and adequate ventilation system. The front of the vehicle contains a portable Vacu-flush head system, and a storage cabinet, which stores everything from water, wine & beer, to a variety of fun and healthy snacks. Cheeses and more scrumptious appetizers await inside the refrigerator. Like the honor bar in my hotel room, the removal of these items will be charged to my account.

Also, toward the front is a television & music system that feeds into the encompassing surround sound system. Built-in wifi enables the use of all devices, including the integrated mapping system.


Once the 8 of us have filled the vehicle, the doors close, and our saved itinerary is fed into the onboard navigation system. The car learns where we would like to go, and what we would like to see, and even what mood we would like to traverse. For example, are we in a hurry to check them off the list and return to the hotel asap? Or, hurry to get there, then slow to a leisurely speed to enjoy the scenery? Or relaxed all the way? The system handles a wide variety of options and allows us to change things on the fly if we happen to see something along the way that attracts our attention.

We begin our tour of the Southern California beach cities. The onboard computer, connected to a wide variety of AI (artificial intelligence) tour guides, enable us to interact by asking it questions as we proceed through our tour. We select one that seems to have an excellent background in the beaches of SoCal and possesses an amenable personality as well. It proceeds to tell us what we are passing along the way, including history, some funny backstories, even local trivia.

We arrive at a scenic beach. We are asked to disembark and walk predesignated paths and trails along the waterfronts, while our guide, which has been auto-loaded into our mobile devices, continues to talk us through the natural beauty in front of us.

The end of the path is about 1/3 of a mile from where we left the vehicle. And as we near the end of the trail, we see that our vehicle has come around to greet us at the other end. It recognizes us and opens the doors in welcoming.

We proceed to the next stop, a famous amusement park. We are taken to the entrance where the doors open, and we disembark. After a few hours in the park, the app leads us to where a vehicle awaits our arrival. When we board, we notice that although it is a different vehicle, it is stocked with the same goodies that we had in the previous vehicle. The same tour guide greets us on the screen, recognizing us and remembering each of our names, and we proceed as though we had never left the original vehicle.

After this beautiful day of site seeing, the sun begins to set over the ocean on Pacific Coast Highway. We pour wine and partake of the reasonably-priced refrigerated appetizers, as we laugh and enjoy our relaxing vacation. Our guide asks us if he can recommend a restaurant on the way back to the hotel. After he learns our preferences, he announces that he has found the perfect place and has reserved a table for us. He 'guarantees' that we will be delighted!

After dinner, we pile back into the vehicle, once again noticing that it is yet another vehicle, our third for the day. However, there is our guide, greeting us by name again when we enter the car. He asks us how we enjoyed our dinner.

ack at our hotel, we all comment about how relaxed we are. About how easy it was to navigate a problematic area such as Los Angeles. And how effortless the whole day was, primarily because of the incredible service we received from the autonomous vehicles.

The only question we have at the end of the day is, "who do we tip?"

Today, I believe that we are much closer to this scenario than we may think. I don't know about you, but when it comes to maneuvering my way down the Santa Ana freeway, I feel safer knowing that another driverless car is next to me, rather than the highly-flawed human that drives while being distracted by phones, hot coffee, mascara, and billboards that visually scream for attention.

Driverless cars definitely have my attention.

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By Patty Civalleri, Author


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Name: Patty Civalleri
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