Bruce Katz (Brookings) writes a short comment about innovation in the automated vehicle space predicting rising fortunes for cities with the right stuff to innovate.

The full economic benefits of breakthrough technologies, of course, accrue to those few cities that have the capacity to invent them.

He was extolling Pittsburgh with its Carnegie Mellon University AI capability, Caterpillar, Uber and  a couple of CMU spinoffs.

The development of new platform technologies benefits entire economies, but the big winners are the cities and regional ecosystems that invent them and become centers of entire new industries. With the advent of multiple general-purpose technologies, the spatial geography of the global economy is about to shift again.

It seems to me that innovation provides a couple of paths to a win: innovation and manufacture of that innovation is the obvious one. Deployment and use is the other.

Certainly, Pittsburgh is far more likely to become an American centre for the vehicle automation industry, than say Lexington, Kentucky or St. Louis, Missouri — two cities of similar population size.

But what about countries that use automated vehicles to transform their urban transportation systems? Their goods movement systems?

President Eisenhower’s interstate system, with its massive coverage and universal access, was a tremendous relative boon to the U.S. economy and growth for several decades.  What will happen if, say, China deploys vehicle robotics at a significantly faster rate than does the EU or US — regardless of who invented the vehicles?

If a China or an India were to reduce its transportation inefficiencies at a significantly faster rate than other countries, would that not reduce its effective GDP gap considering that transportation accounts for such a massive portion of GDP today?

I think countries, regions, and cities that focus on deploying automation for optimizing and moving people and goods will fare better than those that don’t — even including those that might focus on developing the technology. I think that because the current degree of inefficiency in our transportation systems is so overwhelming that just being aggressive in addressing that has the potential to rearrange world GDP rankings.

Consider the U.S. at 0.8 vehicles per capita and China at 0.13 per capita (Wikipedia). Because all vehicles in both countries require a driver today, these numbers indicate a significant disparity in motorized mobility. Removing the need to have a driver will have a vastly different impact in each country. In the US a slight uptick in mobility and a vast uptick in convenience and safety, but in China the uptick in mobility would be far larger by comparison. Consider, further, that the population in China in 4.25 times greater than that of the US. If the effective access to motorized automobility (passenger miles travelled, not vehicles owned) were quadrupled (equivalent to 0.5 per capita) in China the effect would be perhaps 15 times greater than that in the U.S. This would create a dramatic leapfrog effect.

What will stop a revolution in the deployment of automation by less developed countries from threatening the current global GDP rankings of the developed world?

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