How Might Connected- & Autonomous-Vehicles in an ITS Change the Shape Future Roads Take?

By: Consuelo Azuaje

At this year’s Enterprise IoT Summit, Dave Sparks revealed how transportation and logistics will change as M2M and IoT technologies become steadily more integrated into our road-infrastructure and lead us—inevitably—to an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). A Senior Research Scientist at Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute, Sparks believes the majority of today’s transportation issues—fundamentally concerned with either safety or mobility—could be solved in the future by an ITS. A future ITS will include both connected vehicles (CVs) and automated vehicles (AVs) and will possess the potential to improve traffic safety and automate traffic law enforcement. Ultimately, that would produce savings at multiple levels of government and free governmental branches to focus resources on other demands.

According to Sparks, there are two types of players in the transportation ecosystem. Primary players are motorists, vehicles themselves, and road-infrastructure owners (on-road), while secondary players are insurance and construction companies involved in concomitant transportation operations (enabling and support, behind-the-scenes).

Sparks also maintains that the six key areas of CVs and AVs in the future ITS will be:

(1)    Policy Regulations & Public Awareness—In the future of ITS, policy regulations will have to change along with the morphing/evolving transportation landscape. For example: as AVs and CVs become increasingly popular on the road, so, too, will the practice of platooning AVs and CVs used for transport into fleets with one lead driver. Such a drastic change in they way we transport goods might very well lead to new regulations regarding lane use, making the left lane exclusive to platooned fleets of rubber-tired transport.

(2)    In-Vehicle Systems—Perhaps set to Moore’s furious drumbeat, emerging technologies used for in-vehicle systems (e.g. sensors, communications) have marched forward at a breathless rate. The tools future engineers and have in their kit will do more than shape the architecture of a future ITS—they will furnish it.

(3)    Communications and Data Sharing—These technologies include vehicle-to-everything (V2X), dedicated short range communications (DSRC), and cellular emerging technologies (especially 5G).

(4)    Road Readiness—Having been developed around human driver behavior to prioritize human safety, road readiness standards necessarily inform road design and construction and literally define our road landscape. Today, the road is occupied almost exclusively by human drivers, but in due time, as more and more AVs and CVs begin to enter the the landscape, those standards will have to undergo adjustment. For example: the standard driving lane width today (12 feet) nearly doubles the average width of an SUV (6.5 feet); while that kind of breadth might well suit the average width of a commercial vehicle (8.5 feet), the overwhelming majority of vehicles on the road today are passenger, not commercial, vehicles. Driving lanes have been designed to be this wide to accommodate for drivers and their distinctly human tendency to “drift” while on the road. Because they wouldn’t drift anywhere nearly as much as we do, AVs won’t require as much lane space and so a future road landscape where AVs dominate would likely feature much narrower lanes.

(5)    Standards—They are and will continue to be necessary because they give different professionals in the market shared expectations when discussing and negotiating technology development and implementation.

(6)    Procurement—This is a time-consuming process for road-infrastructure owners (which are typically local and state government agencies. Encumbered by layers of unnecessary bureaucracy, it’s not unusual for road-infrastructure technology development to outpace the procurement process at such a rate that project quality is often risked to obsolescence by Moore’s Law. There’s still a bunch of work that needs to be done in this space to expedite the procurement process.

How will M2M/IoT fit into a future transportation landscape governed by an ITS? Although, traffic management systems have traditionally used SCADA to collect data (e.g. traffic flow), new M2M/IoT technologies applications are becoming increasingly prevalent and vastly improving data collection. The universal question asked in this space is: what is the return on this investment? The answer: vastly improved data collection has already begun to translate to increased revenues via improved toll fee and parking fine collection, improved traffic flow for emergency vehicles and passenger vehicles, alike, as well as more effective parking law enforcement.