As this is my first real post about transportation, it seems only fitting that it is on the subject of the future: automated vehicles. Over the past few years, there has been a lot of hype, fanfare, and media buzz on the vision of cars driving themselves. The front-runner of this propaganda is Google, with their Google Car. If you have not seen the video, view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdgQpa1pUUE. It really is the technology of the future.
HOWEVER, I would not bet the farm on automated vehicles coming anytime soon, and this was incredibly evident at the event I just attended: the 2014 Florida Automated Vehicles Summit. This summit, while could wrongly be construed as a “poor man’s ITS World Congress,” was an eye-opening view on how to agencies can help foster this technology and work with private industry.
Government agencies were definitely the focus of this summit, given the attendees. Almost the entire Florida DOT, along with their army of consultants, attended. I did see some small, local agencies, but they were definitely in the minority. Therefore, since the State was the largest attendee, one would think that an agency’s “call to action” or “unveiled policy/guidance” would be the surrounding theme to this event. However, I believe the State missed a major opportunity to foster a charge to action. With the entire FDOT being present, it would have been a chance to ignite the entire department to change course from the traditional method of delivering transportation via expanded limited-access capacity.
Okay, enough of my wishful thinking and long diatribe. Let us get to brass tax and the meat of the article:
Even though this chance to change course to become a true world-class transportation department was missed, all was not lost. I think the general consensus that automated vehicles were coming next week was a strong myth, and this was evident by Grant Begley as he went through the evolution of the US Department of Defense’s Robotics program. As Mr. Begley put it, we are on the brink of automated vehicles, but we are not there yet. The technology is there, but we have not hit the point where it is commercially viable. (By the way, his presentation I thought was the best of all, hands down.)
Therein lies the point that I think everyone was trying to ask: when will it become commercially viable? How will the market act? How does government fit into the equation? This is the real crux of the issue, and one that is pretty well answered: the market has already taken ahold of this technology through a number of different avenues. Automakers, third-party companies, and app developers (like yours truly) have started to develop connected/automated vehicle technologies ahead of regulation from the government.
Since private companies are quicker to act, this does not mean that the government does not have a place in the automated/connected (CV/AV) vehicle space. In my opinion, the best option for Federal, State, and Local partners are to integrate automated/connected items into their transportation programs and remove institutional and legislative barriers as quickly as possible. One example of such integration is in the transportation project selection process. In the past 50 or so years, we, as a transportation industry, have been solely focused on building roads under the assumption that capacity = mobility. However, as we have discovered (with connected/automated vehicles making this more obvious) is that you do not necessarily need more roads to provide maximum mobility. Therefore, this critical (and institutionalized) assumption is false and we need to realize that.
But I digress. Let me get back to the structure I originally came up with for this post, and leave my thoughts on roadway capacity/efficiency for a later post.
The “Legend” portion of this post is trying to show the reality and wade through the wishful thinking, and the main point is this: while we, as an industry, have talked about governments working with private companies to foster CV/AV, we have never fully defined what “working” is. Should the government provide foundational research so private companies can take it and run with the ideas? Is government’s “working” involve getting out of the way of Onboard Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and try and react to the market? What about government mandating what can and cannot be done? How about having government force cooperation between the players in the market? In my humble opinion, I believe it is, “D, none of the above.”
Government, at a Federal and State level, should exist to provide the social voice/benefit in the marketplace. They should advocate issues that private companies are not interested in. Safety. Environmental protection. Region-wide efficiency. These are what governments should promote and advocate for in the marketplace. In the CV/AV marketplace, governments need to foster collaboration through grants, hack-a-thons, etc. at the federal down to the local level. They need to break down the silos between individual companies and provide avenues for smaller companies and individuals to further the CV/AV market. This CV/AV space is enormous, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface as to how it will affect our lives, and future generations. It is going to affect every bit of our lives, from how we live and work, to how we play and how our cities/towns are setup.
And with that, I have finished this first glob of thoughts on a very complex subject. From my time at the Florida Automated Vehicles Summit 2014, it seems that Florida is starting to integrate this concept into their agency, but they have a long, uphill battle. Hopefully, we can see governments institutionalize CV/AV items in their agencies so that we can all get to this utopian society of automated vehicles.