It might seem like something out of the classic cartoon The Jetsons, but driverless cars - or autonomous vehicles as they are known - could be here sooner than we think, and it could open a whole new world for commercial property investors.

Commercial Real Estate Opportunities

New research released last week from the Toronto University found that driverless cars could open up a whole lot of space, for example the huge suburban car parking lots that have become part of our everyday life.

The reason for this is simple - the customer, the shopper, the mother or father dropping their child off to play sport, or the family going to see a movie - will not have to park, or will need less area when they do park, which will free up space.

This could then lead to more commercial investment on the huge areas that car parks now take up.

Imagine as a commercial investor or a property developer being able to make use of all those wide spaces in suburban shopping centres?

Even land on main streets, suburban and retail, could be reclaimed for investors.

It would be like a golden ticket in land... but not so fast.

Commercial Property will need to Change

There are still a number of significant challenges before driverless cars become a reality.

Weng Seng, the CEO of carpark technology startup,, recently told Michael Beckman’s website CREtech that the technology has a long way to go before we see driverless cars dominating our roads.

"There will be increasing needs for electric car charging" he told CREtech.

"When it comes to access control, payment and navigation/guidance, the interactions will be increasingly more for vehicles and less for human beings."

There has to be somewhere for the driverless car to park - but the thinking is, they could park in grids of land that are now unused. For example, a barren factory could be converted to store the cars when they aren’t on the road.

"In a parking lot full of AVs (autonomous vehicles), you don't need to open the doors, so they can park with very little space in between," the author of the new research, Professor Matthew Roorda, told New Atlas magazine.

"You also don't need to leave space for each car to drive out, because you can signal the surrounding AVs to move out of the way."

Time to Start Thinking about AV Impact

Most of the major car companies, including General Motors and BMW, are working on developing driverless cars.

Much talked about CEO of Telsa, Elon Musk, claimed to Forbes magazine last week that in two years’ time, we could be "sleeping in our cars."

But the reality is, according to research from Goldman Sachs, it won't be until about 2050 that more than 50 per cent of our vehicles on the road could be driverless vehicles, and that's just a possibility.

So there is a long way to go, but as a commercial real estate professional, it's something to put in the back of your brain, and start thinking about.

The commercial property market as we know it, could be changing.