Part I: How Driverless Cars Are Changing Our Roadways

Posted on Friday, April 13th, 2018 by
In Industry Trends, Transportation Engineering, tagged in Tags: , ,
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Autonomous or driverless cars are making headlines around the world. With tech developers and car manufacturers caught in an arms race, many are left wondering what they can expect and how to best prepare their communities. We recently interviewed three co-workers, Mike McKenna, Cliff Speegle, and Lee Baer, on the subject. The result is this two-part series on the topic.

How are autonomous vehicles being used now?
Lee: There’s a large, retirement community in Florida called the Villages. They’re currently using autonomous cars to transport residents through a self-driving taxi service.

Cliff: Internationally, we’ve seen companies integrate autonomous semis into their fleets. But, right now, states like Missouri have laws in place that would prohibit that.

Mike: While we haven’t seen as many driverless vehicles in the U.S., connected cars are very popular right now. Technology, like Bluetooth and lane assist, are commonplace. There’s also been a big push to improve intersection connectivity with vehicles. It would let cars know an intersection was approaching and help the signal to adapt to traffic volumes.

Lee: Almost all car makers and many tech companies have some sort of prototype going.

Mike: The shift in car manufacturing has even caused Ford to rebrand itself as a mobility company, as opposed to a car manufacturer.

How soon do you think we will see the impacts in Kansas City?
Mike: Connected vehicles are here in Kansas City right now. I think we’ll see autonomous cars as fleet vehicles first. My guess would be 5 to 10 years.

Cliff: Some say the change will be quick. Others say we have a long way to go.

Lee: I think we have at least a decade before they make up 20 percent of the vehicles on the road. The coasts will most likely be quicker to adopt them and adapt to the changes.

Mike: When they are first on the road, we’ll have a human element mixed with computerized cars. There will be an initial hurdle of working with old cars and new technology. After the transition, traffic should be more efficient and smoother.

How are connected cars affecting road design?
Mike: Right now, they’re impacting intersection design and creating a demand for the integration of intelligent transportation systems. Road design and geometrics are still the same, but the signals are smarter.

What are some common considerations or challenges with autonomous cars?
Mike: Every computer crashes at some point. What are our fail safes for those instances?

Lee: Public perception will also be a huge hurdle.

Mike: Lots of people like to drive. Will they be allowed to, or will there be tracks that are specifically designated for those individuals?

Cliff: A lot of people are interested in driverless vehicles. They’ve become a headline. But, right now, they can be a distraction from some of the challenges we’re currently facing with maintaining our infrastructure. Until they’re fully integrated, we still need to solve funding issues and keep roadways fully functional.

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