As autonomous vehicles inch closer to reality, a diverse range of companies and public entities are exploring ways to maximize their positive impact on traffic flows and congestion.
Communication at all levels, both between vehicles and between public and private interest groups, will be an important element for improving efficiency.
Connectivity is growing in importance, sparking major changes throughout the transportation industry. The many aspects of the auto’s role in the Internet of Things were recently explored by a range of panelists during the recent SAE Connect2Car@CES conference in Las Vegas.
While telematic links now improve infotainment and navigation for drivers and passengers, the societal benefits for safety and efficient transportation will come when vehicles can talk to each other and to the infrastructure. Many speakers noted that vehicle to vehicle/infrastructure (V2X) communications are a necessity for driverless vehicles.
“When two autonomous cars meet at an intersection where the traffic light is off, they need to share data instantaneously,” said Ami Dotan, CEO at Karamba Security. “If not, they’ll slow down traffic while they wait for each other.”
It may be a while before cars routinely talk to each other as they drive. In the shorter term, many companies are looking at different types of valet parking functions, with vehicles that drop people off, search the Web for open spots they can park in, then return to the driver when called. This application can reduce wasted time spent circling areas to search for parking spots. However, it may increase congestion at drop-off and pickup spots.
“People are interested in saving their time, they see a lot of benefits if they don’t have to park their car,” said Anuja Sonalker, CEO at Steer, a startup that makes self-parking software. “In cities and places like airports, autonomous vehicles will be pulling up to curbs to pick people up and drop them off, which takes a lot of time, especially if passengers have difficulty moving. Curb space will become prime space.”
The impact of connected and autonomous vehicles on urban lifestyles was another area that generated a high level of interest throughout the six panel sessions. Government agencies are open to building an infrastructure that links connected vehicles to stoplights and other elements, according to many speakers. They foresee a time when the auto industry and regional transportation agencies work together to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.
“We are changing the way we see public-private partnerships,” said Seleta Reynolds, General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “Our problems need to be the OEM’s problems.”
Partnerships key to data sharing
Some industry groups are open to this sort of data sharing. It can bring significant benefits at fairly low costs. However, there must be standards that ensure that all vehicles and infrastructure facilities can use information. That’s currently in question, with some speakers promoting dedicated short range communications (DSRC) and others backing cellular vehicle to everything (C2VX).
“We need to get the balance right and ensure that public safety is improved,” said John Bozzella, CEO at the Association of Global Automakers. “Communications can be added at costs that, compared to asphalt and other infrastructure costs we’re used to, are relatively small. We’ve got to make sure the investment we make are right. We do not want to roll something out that we need to walk back and start over.”
Most governmental transportation managers appeared open to sharing data with vehicles. They feel this aspect of the Smart Cities movement can help them rein in costs by maximizing roadway usage.
“We see ourselves as a partner,” said Tina Quigley, General Manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. “We can provide information like telling drivers when a light will turn green so we can increase the number of cars that pass safely through an intersection. That can help reduce the amount of asphalt we have to add.”
Some panelists wondered whether OEMs will be willing to let others see data from their vehicles. While much data will remain proprietary, speakers noted that automakers have become more willing to share information in recent years. Growing acceptance of open source software has fostered sharing through Genivi and the need for cybersecurity has prompted many companies to transmit data to the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center (Auto-ISAC).
“Automakers share more information now than ever before through groups like Genivi and Auto-ISAC,” said Andrew Till, Vice President of Technology at Harman. “If we don’t share within industry, government may step in.”
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Terry Costlow is a contributing writer to SAE International.