Look, no hands! Big car and technology companies such as BMW, Apple and Google are investing in driverless technology.

Widespread adoption of driverless cars would release thousands of acres of land for new housing and reduce the strain on transport infrastructure, according to research published today.

The report, centred on Edinburgh, suggests that congestion is costing the city more than £300 million a year in lost time and autonomous vehicles would help to trim that figure.

Arcadis, the design and consultancy firm that compiled the data, pointed out that the city’s population — of more than 500,000 — was expected to grow rapidly, placing even greater pressure on areas such as housing provision and transport. It was recently suggested that Edinburgh could overtake Glasgow as Scotland’s largest city in 2032.

The report, Citizens in Motion, found that up to 80 per cent of the space allocated for car parking in Edinburgh could be reclaimed if driverless vehicles became more widespread.

Big car and technology companies such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Apple and Google are investing heavily in driverless technology. In August Toyota, the Japanese carmaker, said that it would invest £387 million in Uber.

The Arcadis report said that each of the 14 cities it considered, including London, San Francisco, Paris, Dubai and Hong Kong, would have their own challenges to overcome.

Edinburgh has high public transport use and has targets to move quickly around reducing carbon emissions from transport, it says. The researchers suggest that up to 2,700 acres of land used for parking could be freed up by autonomous vehicles — enough for about 17,000 new homes.

Autonomous cars would be able to use their sensors to identify parking spaces but experts expect that more people will rent rather than buy the vehicles, meaning many journeys would end with a drop-off. There is also an expectation that public transport use would rise, in autonomous buses.

The research said that local authorities should consider these factors now to position cities to take advantage of the changes.

Arcadis said that Edinburgh’s ambitions to be a centre for data technology could be harnessed to encourage the use of driverless technology.

Graham Hill, the cities executive for Scotland at Arcadis, said: “While the proliferation of driverless technology is inevitable, what isn’t yet clear is what shape it will take in Edinburgh.

“Connected and autonomous vehicles offer great potential, but in Edinburgh it is crucial that the new technology is deployed in a complementary manner that helps to reduce congestion rather than adding to it.”

George Lowder, chief executive of Transport for Edinburgh, said: “Connected and autonomous vehicles will inevitably have an impact on Edinburgh’s integrated transport network and it’s essential that we give careful thought now as to what that will mean for the city and those who live, work, study and visit.”

Via The Times UK