East Coast transportation officials gathered this week near Baltimore to catch up with the latest in autonomous activity at the ‘Connected & Automated Vehicles: What States Need to Know’ conference.
The event was organized and led by the I-95 Corridor Coalition, a partnership of state departments of transportation and related agencies in the 16-state region from Maine to Florida. Roads in these states account for 16 percent of the nation’s road miles and 35 percent of vehicle miles traveled.
The conference was designed to explain the importance of connected and automated technology, update officials on activities in the sector nationwide, and help assist states in developing next steps, said Dr. Trish Hendren, executive director of the Coalition.
About 200 registered for the conference at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum, Md.
Much of the conference was devoted to officials from state DOTs and related agencies updating each other on activities within their borders.
Here are some highlights from the first day of the conference –
A number of state DOT officials stressed how connected technology may help save the agency some bucks. Virginia DOT’s Dean Gustafson noted that Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications could mean the elimination of various signs and traffic signals that cost as much as $1 billion to develop, install, maintain.
Joah Sapphire, who has worked on the New York DOT’s connected efforts for Global Dynamic Group, suggested that a DOT could look at individual line items and find savings. For example, information gathered through connected tech could help New York reduce the $417 million it spends annually on salt and sand to treat roads during bad weather.
New York is already testing driverless trucks to be used in work zones that could make the space safer for crews, said Sapphire.
Gustafson said that states have to work together so communication systems work across borders. He acknowledged that states can be very competitive, especially when they seek research dollars or revenues from technology.
“It will be hard to compete with Michigan and the auto industry there. And Silicon Valley and venture capital (in California),” said Gustafson, state operations engineer.
(However, Virginia is no slouch, busy testing with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, expanding its testbed last year to include parts of Washington Beltway, the Federal Highway Administration working on parts of Virginia’s Connected Corridors, and more ongoing projects.)
Gregory C. Johnson, state highway administrator for Maryland, said that states should look to ways to monetize the V2I technology and the highway land they own. “I’m looking for a state to come up with that magic bullet (of monetization) so I can copy them,” said Johnson.
IS STAFF PREPARED?
Gene Donaldson, TMC operations manager with the Delaware DOT, said he has insisted the state install information-gathering technology whenever it lays down highways. And he teased the crowd by saying a certain firm asked Delaware if it could run its autonomous vehicle across the state to Pennsylvania. (The answer was yes as Delaware law doesn’t forbid it, said Donaldson. He wouldn’t name the firm.)
However, he warned that schools aren’t training enough people today in technology already installed, like traffic signals. How do you take advantage of V2I technology if you don’t have staff ready to work with it, asked Donaldson.
Several officials gave reports of strong research they are doing on connected and autonomous technology.
Dr. Gene McHale of the FHWA talked about research conducted in the Washington, D.C. metro area. The FHWA is testing connected vehicle tech with the 5.9 GHz band at nearby air bases and labs, and on I-66 in Virginia. One finding — 22 percent fuel savings when fully automated ‘glide path’ systems are used so vehicles avoid stopping at intersections.
Mark Kopko, manager of advanced vehicle technology with the Pennsylvania DOT, said the state is operating three testbeds with more than 20 intersections equipped with DSRC technology around Pittsburgh. Keystone State’s jewel is Carnegie Mellon, a robotics and autonomous technology leader.
The Pennsylvania legislature could soon consider SB 1268 that will allow NHTSA Level 4 testing, said Kopko. If approved, Pennsylvania will have greater leeway in driverless testing, and it already has plans regarding truck platooning.
Adam Jonas, a transportation analyst with Morgan Stanley, woke up the crowd after lunch with a presentation on the changes coming to the transportation business.
The ‘shared autonomy’ industry will be led by giants like Apple and Google who develop driverless vehicles that offer personalized transportation services akin to what Uber and Lyft are doing today, Jonas predicted.
People worldwide now ride a total of 10 trillion miles annually, said Jonas, and at $1 a mile, the market for transporting people is $10 trillion.
That’s an intriguing figure but the real money comes when the ‘megafleet’ operators sell to advertisers and others the eyeballs of riders sitting in the driverless cars.
Increased safety and reduction in deaths and injuries that connected technology brings will encourage citizens to shift to driverless vehicles and give up some privacy, Jonas argued.
Also, Jonas predicted a public/private partnership between a city and business in 2018 or 2019 will set aside an area exclusive to operating connected and/or automated vehicles. He declined to name the city.
DSRC AND COMMENTS TO THE FCC
Several speakers suggested the state officials may want to leave comments for the Federal Communications Commission as it considers whether to open up the 5.9 GHz spectrum to Wi-Fi communications.
In brief, the federal government set this section of the spectrum aside in 1999 for transportation safety messages using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC). Connected vehicle proponents want to keep this space for this use as the technology grows.
Telecommunications firms have asked the FCC to allow them to use at least part of the 5.9 band. These firms say they will use it to offer bandwidth for Wi-Fi as it surges in popularity.
“The wireless community is very vocal,” said Blair Anderson, deputy administrator with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Dr. Gummada Murthy, associate director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, is fighting to keep the band reserved for transportation-related uses.
“We don’t want to share it unless you can prove that sharing it will not compromise safety,” said Murthy.
He’s holding a webinar on June 30 for state DOT and local officials that will encourage them to send official comments to the FCC on DSRC.
ITS AMERICA 2016
A number of these East Coast speakers attended last week’s ITS America 2016 conference in San Jose. General impression was the technology was impressive, the number of connected and autonomous projects was impressive, the conference was impressive. Etc.
HERE HEATS UP
HERE announced it had been selected by the North Carolina Department of Transportation to provide its real-time traffic data for the state’s roadways. North Carolina joins seven other East Coast states in using Here’s Real-time Traffic Services.
North Carolina DOT chose Here through the I-95 Corridor Coalition’s Vehicle Probe Project that is designed so states and others can purchase, validate and share data.
Interesting to see who is spending some money to catch the eye of East Coast transportation officials. Conference sponsors included Ch2m, HNTB, Inrix, Jacobs, National Energy Research Laboratory (NREL), and WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Exhibitors included Cambridge Systematics, CATT Lab from the University of Maryland, Consensus Systems Technologies, HERE, Inrix, Kapsch TrafficCom, Kimley-Horn, NREL, and Southwest Research Institute.
The I-95 Corridor Coalition addresses such major topics as alternative transportation system funding, freight supply chain, MAP-21, FAST Act implementation, tolling issues, and connected and automated vehicles.