March 5th, 2014

Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

Optimize Mobility, Zero Crashes, Injuries and Fatalities, by Becky Parker.

What does the future hold? That question is nearly impossible to answer unless we’re talking about ways to optimize mobility and reach zero fatalities. Then, we do have a few ideas. The U.S. Department of Transportation, state DOTs and automakers have been working on connected vehicles for several years and Google and some universities have been working on autonomous vehicles. Both of these efforts will allow for the safest and most efficient transportation system we’ve ever imagined.

Photo of an intersection

Connected vehicles can improve safety at busy intersections

So, what are autonomous and connected vehicles? Autonomous vehicles use sensors and photo imagery to drive themselves. Connected vehicles would assist the driver by providing information and resources. Blaine Leonard, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Program Manager, explained it to me this way. When an autonomous vehicle approaches a signal it sees that it is green and that it can proceed. In comparison, a connected vehicle would have information from the signal including how long it will remain green as well as what the next signal phase is. It would even know what another unseen connected vehicle is doing down the road.

Recently the U.S. DOT National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a rulemaking process which will ultimately mandate vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication as standard equipment in the future. This will allow these vehicles to share information and alert a driver in order to avoid a crash. This is just the first step though. As Blaine mentioned, the next step will enable transportation infrastructure to also communicate with vehicles. The Volpe National Transportation Systems Center estimates that these technologies could save over 5 million crashes a year.

There are concerns that transportation officials and automakers haven’t forgotten about, including privacy and security. For these technologies to work correctly they must be accurate and impenetrable to common problems we face such as hackers and viruses. There is also the question of privacy which is a sensitive and personal subject for each individual. At this time vehicle communication would be anonymous.

In Utah we have technology in place that makes us well suited for these advancements. One is the LiDAR data that includes a complete picture of roadway assets along state Routes and interstates. We also have an extensive fiber optic network that allows for statewide communication.

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