5 Predictions for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles - Part 1
September 26, 2017

Sam Morrissey

I attended the recent ITS California annual conference in San Francisco. I should say "attended" lightly as I had to spend more of my time in the hallways and lobbies on conference calls or addressing specific active projects. Such is the life of a consultant.

I did manage to catch the Tuesday keynote lunch presentation by Robin Chase (among many other things, co-founder and CEO of Zipcar). She is such an impressive person and gave a very engaging presentation via video conference, which is really hard to do.

Robin provided some compelling data regarding global temperature rise and how it is linked to mobility. I particularly enjoyed the broad discussion about the future of both cities and rural areas, as well as the predictions on AVs (or FAVES – Fleet Automated Vehicles, Electric and Shared). The presentation covered the gamut of issues that will need to be addressed as the world completely changes and left me thinking about when we might realistically see autonomous vehicles, what that might look like and where we might see them.

So I decided to share my current predictions about connected and autonomous vehicles: 

Within Five Years (2017-2022)

1. Fully Autonomous Shuttles

Fully autonomous (SAE Level 5) shuttle (or micro transit-y vehicles) vehicles within designated areas of urban areas. Think of the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica or the 16th Street Mall in Denver, which already provides a designated public transportation option, only with a fleet of small fully autonomous shuttle vehicles moving slowly and safely up and down these corridors.

This is the perfect environment for this type of shuttle as they will need to move slowly and maintain constant vigilance for pedestrians and other modes – but most importantly, not cars. The most erratic behavior of users of these pedestrian-only areas are people, so the response time and severity of "collisions" are lessened. This concept is already being applied in England.

With this type of operation the designation of these areas will require additional infrastructure. Many in the transportation profession are now familiar with the concept of geofencing – designating certain geographic areas for TNC (Lyft/Uber) operation using GPS and cellular. This is a useful tool for regulating operations and monitoring usage; it is not a useful tool for actual prohibition of entry and/or enforcement, however.

Therefore the designated areas where autonomous shuttles could operate will require some type of barrier system or other hard design feature to restrict vehicular entry. This recommendation is made without adding the additional factor of recent events in traditionally pedestrian-only zones and public markets.

Features such as removable barricade systems, bollards or heavier barriers can provide the necessary physical restriction to ensure only pedestrians, bicycles and autonomous shuttles operate within a designated area. This will create a zone reflecting the utopian vision for autonomous vehicles resulting in a 90% decrease in vehicular collisions as there will be no human-operated vehicles to wreak havoc within the controlled automated zone.

Once these physical barriers are installed they must be maintained. Busy and popular downtown locations with pedestrian-only zones are always active. With the activity comes frequent outdoor events – think music festivals or farmers' markets. With the outdoor events comes a desire to put booths and tents throughout the zone, which can require delivery trucks or on-the-spot removal to provide space to set up and remove the booths and tents. Barrier systems will only be effective if they are well maintained and functioning.

2. More Connected and Semi-Autonomous Vehicles

More connected and semi-autonomous (SAE Level 3-4) vehicles on public roads. This will mean positive advances like adaptive cruise control, automated braking, parking assistance and collision avoidance. These will improve safety and greater improvements can potentially be realized through improved connectivity with the public transportation infrastructure.

An example I like to cite is the collision of a self-driving car by a van in 2016. The van was driven by a person and the person was found to be at fault in the collision. The collision occurred at a traffic signal and modern traffic signals have tremendous sensing capabilities to detect vehicles and their speeds. Had the signal in which the collision of the self-driving car and the van been configured to detect the approaching speed of vehicles arriving at the intersection, the self-driving car could have received a message broadcast by the traffic signal alerting the car to the advance of a vehicle at a rate of speed that was too fast to safely stop at the red light; so instead of proceeding through a green light the self-driving car could have slowed or stopped in time to avoid the collision.

These types of collisions will be more and more frequent as the fleet penetration of semi-autonomous vehicles grows.

For 3 more predictions, read 5 Predictions for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles - Part 2

Sam Morrissey is Associate VP at Iteris