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Preparing for a quantum leap in transportation technology

Suzanne Murtha | 29 Oct 2014 | Comments

Until recently, a world where vehicles help drivers make informed decisions, and even drive themselves, existed in the distant future. However, advanced transportation technologies and policies are being implemented today that will take effect within the next few years. To realize the opportunities offered by the deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles, agencies must prepare for their arrival right now.

Connected vehicles

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is currently pursuing a mandate to require installation of 5.9 GHz devices in new vehicles to establish standard communications capability and enable data sharing with other vehicles and roadway devices. The federal government is expected to implement this mandate by January 2017, and General Motors has already announced that its 2017 Cadillac CTS sedan (on sale in Fall 2016) will be equipped with compatible vehicle-to-vehicle technology.

As vehicles begin communicating or “connecting” directly with other vehicles and roadways, an enormous amount of real-time, dynamic data will be produced and available to agencies. Moreover, it’s expected to be the largest amount of data ever produced from a single source throughout human history. This will pose a significant data management challenge requiring considerable planning. This will also offer an exciting opportunity for better roadway management, increased throughput, and decreased costs to agencies for incident response.

Once implemented, these initiatives are expected to have a significant impact on crash-based fatalities through collision avoidance at intersections and accidental lane departures. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that 80 percent of unimpaired crash scenarios could be eliminated, saving thousands of lives each year.

In addition, traffic reduction measures, such as improved signal coordination, could help address environmental and mobility concerns.

Autonomous vehicles

Simultaneous to the development of connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles are taking shape and following two development paths—autonomous vehicles connected to roadway infrastructure, and non-connected autonomous vehicles that are independent of infrastructure. Connected autonomous vehicles will take messages from roadside units and from other vehicles to help make decisions for the vehicle. Non-connected autonomous vehicles will make those decisions based on information from maps, on-board equipment, and connectivity through 4G or LTE (cellular-based connections).

Early studies show that autonomous vehicles will significantly decrease following distance through platooning (i.e., vehicle groups traveling close together), reducing safe following distance to inches rather than feet and making safer driving decisions than human drivers. Self-parking vehicles will also require less space to maneuver, reducing parking space needs.

Realizing the opportunities

To support deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles, agencies need to plan for the associated infrastructure required (fiber-optic and supporting networks, traffic management center equipment, and roadside equipment), address staffing needs, and consider data management and privacy concerns. Connected vehicle systems using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) are specifically designed to protect privacy by not associating data with any particular vehicle or driver; however, privacy advocates are already raising objections. Agencies need to be ready to effectively communicate privacy details and policies.

Atkins has been working with the federal government for more than a decade on the development of connected and autonomous vehicles and is excited to lend our expertise to deploying the technology. We’ve been involved in designing and troubleshooting equipment and networks for local deployments of DSRC at facilities such as the San Francisco Airport and the original test bed in Novi, MI, and we’re planning several connected vehicle deployments for various agencies throughout the country.

Atkins has also contributed to the development standards for DSRC roadside equipment and system performance, and we’re working with U.S. Department of Transportation to develop standard approaches for deployment of local connected vehicle systems.

As we prepare for deployment of this technology — moving us light-years ahead in terms of safety, ease, and reduction of carbon-producing traffic — careful planning and collaboration with experienced teams, as well as effective communications with stakeholders are key to realizing its full potential.

And as my colleague Lee Woodcock has already written, this will involve working collaboratively between the public sector, private sector and academia.

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