Automated vehicles – fleets of them – may soon change the way we travel through cities.

The idea, already being implemented in some cities, is a network of fully driverless cars, limited to specific routes.

To lower the total cost of ownership, the electric vehicles will be managed by another company — not individual drivers.

So, how close are we to this kind of future?

Chris Heiser is the co-founder and CEO of Renovo, a California-based manufacturer of fleet operating systems.

In a recent Technical Webinar hosted by Tech Briefs, from the editors of SAE International, an attendee asked Heiser the following question:

“Do you envision the transforming of terrestrial infrastructure to accommodate fully autonomous ground and air vehicles? What is the projected timeframe to achieve fully autonomous enterprises?”

Read Heiser’s response below (and share your comments at the bottom of the article):

Chris Heiser: I think the feedback that we’ve had from people we’ve talked to is that every major company or enterprise today that’s involved in logistics or transportation is trying to figure out how they need to change to adopt and ultimately take advantage of automation.

So, that has a lot to do with land use, and power infrastructure and maintenance infrastructure. What we’ve seen is a really forward-looking view from a lot of different players. The people that manage gas stations today, for example, recognize that that business is likely to go away in the future, but they have land inside of cities that is quite valuable. Will those gas stations that are primarily fuel and retail turn into charging and replenishing stations for these automated vehicles?

What we’re seeing is that you don’t need to go into a city and do a top-down approach and say, “Let’s change everything to enable an autonomous infrastructure.” Each one of the parties that already does things in the city is trying to figure out how they’re going to change to take advantage of this.

I think ground and air, however, are two very different things. With ground transportation, we have laws that already explain how you drive from point A to point B, and our goal is to get robotics systems to be as good or better than humans at doing this. The air infrastructure is a little bit more challenging. It’s not totally clear how it’s going to roll out. But I think, at the end of the day: where there’s a will, there’s a way. People are really putting a lot of investment and time into thinking about how to make this possible.

We think this will happen. It will happen in pockets first. There will be leading cities in the U.S. and abroad that adopt this technology and demonstrate it. As they show scale and efficiency, everyone else will then very quickly want to duplicate that in their cities. We’re in the middle of that process right now.

Do you agree? Do you imagine autonomous vehicle fleets being used in the near future? Share your questions and comments below.

Watch the full Technical Webinar: Managing Big Data for ADAS & Automated Vehicles.