I decided to share my current predictions about connected and autonomous vehicles.
For predictions #1 and #2, start with 5 Predictions for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles - Part 1
3. Autonomous Delivery Vehicles
Autonomous delivery vehicles, already being tested in Washington, DC. I believe this is more of an advancement in the last 100ft aspect of commercial deliveries. You can see this already in the motorized dollies that truck drivers use making deliveries of pallets of goods in downtown areas.
I can envision a small team (Flock? Pod?) of these vehicles being deployed by a small truck, think a UPS or FedEx truck, in a downtown area to distribute lunches ordered via app to office workers. The current tests use human "monitors" and I don't know if that need will go away. It may be more in the form of a supervisor or monitor for the group's deployment and return.
4. Semi-Autonomous Trucks
Semi-autonomous trucks making long-haul trips on interstate highways. This is where autonomy makes the most sense. Not in downtown areas or residential neighborhoods, where the deliveries have to navigate busy sidewalks or long driveways.
The trucking industry already monitors and limits human driver operations, in the interest of ensuring safety for drivers and other people on the road. Already trucks have been the earliest adopters of lane departure warning technology and other connected features. This will only grow, and we will likely see this on the long and lonely highways of the western and central US. Autonomous trucking systems are currently being tested in Nevada.
5. Designated "Self-Driving" Lanes
Designated "self-driving mode" lanes on freeways. This is where a public agency like the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority or Caltrans could make a quick and positive move in response to the spread of connected and autonomous vehicle technology.
Consider a High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane in LA (think the 110), with existing limited points of entry/egress and physical separation from the general purpose lanes in many areas. This type of facility could easily be modified to allow for drivers to set their vehicles on "autopilot" or self-driving mode while traveling in that lane. So that would be the lane where a person driving their car might glance over to the car on their left and see the "driver" reclining in their seat typing out a blog on self-driving vehicles while the car drives itself.
Oh, we could charge a different rate for this mode too – not to gouge the user but rather to charge the market rate for the added benefit the user gains from the publicly funded facility – increasing much-needed revenue to support ongoing operations, maintenance and enforcement.
Beyond Five Years
After five years? Who knows! Five years ago I knew that my wife and I were expecting our first child and I knew my life would change. I didn't know anything. So five years from now, I wouldn't be so bold as to guess.
There's a private component to all this that will be interesting to watch. The merging of private industry with the provision of public transportation (meeting Title XI provisions) will yield some exciting options for transportation and that will continue to evolve with programs like LA Metro's Office of Extraordinary Innovation micro-transit pilot.
For now I offer the above predictions for the next five years with a goal of advancing dialogue, and more importantly action, surrounding the funding for necessary improvements and maintenance to safely integrate connected and autonomous vehicles into our already complex transportation systems.