Imagining a future with self-driving vehicles used to be the stuff of sci-fi television, but with rapidly advancing technology it’s closing in on reality. Nationally recognized transportation policy, safety and technology experts from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) led a panel discussion on transportation in an automated/connected world on September 29 at the George Bush Presidential Library.
TTI Associate Agency Director Ed Seymour spoke about technology and noted several of the research projects and initiatives underway at TTI.
“Last month we demonstrated a truck platooning operation on our RELLIS campus where 18-wheeler trucks closely followed each other, while automatically keeping a prescribed distance between each other and communicating information,” noted Seymour. “Together with industry and government agencies, TTI and Texas A&M University are researching vehicle-based communications that allow vehicles to communicate with each other and with the roadside. Safety can be improved if a vehicle can warn another vehicle of a danger and can communicate about roadside conditions such as work zones and traffic signal operations.”
From the human factors perspective, TTI Senior Research Scientist Mike Manser used the analogy of “cars make lousy dance partners” to illustrate how cars currently rely solely on inputs from the driver and do not account for distractions, fatigue or other human factors.
“But that is changing quickly and soon it is going to be such a close and intimate relationship that it will be almost seamless how the two interact together,” said Manser.
Along with technology and human factors challenges, TTI Transportation Policy Research Center Director and Senior Research Engineer Ginger Goodin noted that there are many challenges ahead on the policy side in the automated/connected world.
In her presentation, Goodin posed several questions that are being researched and for the audience to consider.
“What happens when a driverless vehicles crashes? Is the car manufacturer responsible?” noted Goodin. “Traffic signals, lane markings, signs, and road design — how can these road features play a role in improving the reliability of the technology? Will we need traffic signals? Do we need wide lanes and clear zones if cars don’t crash? Will congestion be reduced, and if so, how many lanes will we need? How do we plan for investments if the roadway needs are potentially changing?”
Ultimately Goodin said the public policy framework in the past 100 years has undergone incremental changes, but is now facing significant change from rapid and dynamic technological advances.
“The advent of self-driving vehicles and connected roadway systems could be truly transformative, with the potential to significantly change U.S. transportation,” said session moderator and TTI Executive Associate Agency Director Bill Stockton. “The question is not if such vehicles will be on Texas roadways — but when.”
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