SafetyFirst fmt

November 2013

Three industry perspectives on emerging vehicle technologies


Assessing the Impacts of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), where I am a postdoctoral researcher, a number of departments including Electrical and Computer Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering are intensely involved in the many different aspects of connected and autonomous vehicles. While researchers at Carnegie Mellon have been working for years on developing autonomous technologies for vehicles, my work today is in researching and assessing the impacts of these technologies.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) started a project, called Connected and Autonomous Vehicles 2040 Vision, with researchers at CMU in July 2013 to assess the implications of connected and autonomous vehicles in the Pittsburgh region. In early October, as part of this project we held a workshop to discuss some of the implications and challenges. About 60 experts from various sectors of the transportation industry, including AAMVA President & CEO Neil Schuster, were in attendance.

Over the course of the next year, our project will be looking at the impacts connected and autonomous vehicles would have on our existing infrastructure, design standards, communication devices, investment decisions, freight flow, driver licensing, workforce training and law enforcement, among other factors.

The main idea behind the connected and autonomous technologies is that we want to reduce the cost of driving. Accidents are a huge cost to society, and safety is a major concern. When these technologies become mainstream, there will be far fewer accidents, as a significant portion of accidents are caused due to human errors. Traffic congestion is another cost of driving that could be improved with the use of these technologies. Additionally, connected and autonomous vehicles would provide a new environment and accessibility for those who cannot currently drive for various reasons, such as the elderly and people with disabilities.

There are a lot of challenges that must be addressed. Liability issues are a major concern. If there is an accident, who is at fault? If the vehicle is “driverless,” is the person “behind the wheel,” the manufacturer or the data company to blame? Regulatory issues are another significant matter to be addressed. Will standards be set by states or by the federal government? Signs may need to change at some point, and we will need to determine if and when they will be consistent among all states. Privacy issues are also of concern. These are only to name a few of the challenges that must be worked on as connected and autonomous vehicles are becoming a reality.

A number of state DOTs, including PennDOT, are interested in knowing how they should plan for these technologies. They want to know what they can do today—if they need to change anything or plan for anything—so when these technologies actually hit the roads and become mainstream, our infrastructure system would be able to support them. That’s what our project is about; PennDOT is being proactive in taking the steps toward the future.

Toyota Emphasizes Safety as a Top Priority for New Vehicles

At the Toyota Technical Center, we are working on long-term fundamental research and shorter-term advanced development, which includes technologies that will be mass-produced in our vehicles in just a few years. While some products related to both connected and autonomous vehicles are close to production in the United States, we are not yet ready to offer them at this time—for various reasons.

However, Toyota has started connected vehicle production in Japan. This is because we are able to connect the vehicle with the infrastructure there. For example, connected vehicle technology comes into play at intersections and merges—where infrastructure communicates with the vehicle, which can in turn warn the driver to slow down. This could be done similarly in the United States.

Up to this point, we’ve done a lot of research, but development has slowed down in the United States. Later on this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation will make a decision as to whether it will mandate connected vehicle technology, and this mandate would guarantee that all new vehicles would eventually have it. This will help us move forward.

Toyota is collaborating with seven other manufacturers to help standardize communication protocols, security and performance standards for connected vehicles. Our vehicles need to be communicating with secure devices that we can trust and that adhere to the standards [in order for this technology to work]. In addition, however, we are developing applications that are unique to our brands in our individual OEM silos.

With emerging vehicle technologies, one of our goals is to alleviate control tasks for the driver. We are trying to relieve him or her from having to do stressful, mundane and repetitive tasks. This will help improve driving efficiency, and, most importantly, improve road safety. For example, with connected vehicle technology, we are able to see far beyond what the driver or conventional sensors see.

There are many emerging vehicle technologies, and a lot of people are anxious to get them and are excited about them. But, for us—as we sell millions of cars around the globe—we need to make sure that these technologies are enjoyed safely, comfortably and economically. Instead of being on the market first, safety is a priority for Toyota.

Connected Vehicles: The Future of Transportation Safety

There are more than 30,000 fatalities on an annual basis on American roadways. Although that number represents historic lows due to the advent of technologies that help occupants survive vehicular collisions, it remains unacceptably high for a country as advanced as the United States. At the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), we are researching and investing in new technologies that could elevate the safety of our nation's roadways to an unprecedented level. One such technology, connected vehicles, promises to help achieve this goal via a communication system that allows vehicles and roadside to talk—sharing valuable information that could save lives. After all, safety is the top priority at USDOT.

According to research from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, connected vehicles have the potential to reduce a significant number of vehicle crashes involving non-impaired drivers. The technology could also help drivers anticipate potential crashes by providing alerts of dangerous conditions such as sudden-braking vehicles, icy or other hazardous road conditions, and sharp curves.

The USDOT is collaborating with some of the world's largest automobile manufacturers and technology companies to develop the advanced applications and devices that would enable a wireless communications system of talking vehicles and roadside infrastructure. The communications network will be secure and the information communicated will not identify the driver or vehicle. Some of the applications include:

  • Forward Collision Warning: Warns drivers if a vehicle ahead is stopped, disabled or traveling more slowly and there is a potential risk of collision;
  • Lane Change Warning/Blind Spot Warning: Warns drivers when changing lanes if there is a vehicle in the blind spot;
  • Emergency Electric Brake Light Warning: Notifies the driver if there is a sudden-braking vehicle ahead (or several vehicles ahead);
  • Intersection Movement Assist: Warns the driver when it is not safe to enter an intersection—for example, when something is blocking the driver's view of opposing or crossing traffic;
  • Do Not Pass Warning: Warns the driver if it is not safe to pass a slower-moving vehicle using a passing zone occupied by vehicles traveling in the opposite direction; and
  • Left Turn Across Path: Notifies a driver who is attempting to make a left turn with oncoming traffic that it is not safe to proceed.

Alerts could be communicated to the driver in several ways, and the USDOT is conducting human factors tests to ensure these technologies do not distract the driver and contribute to additional crashes. In addition, departments of motor vehicles may consider revising their licensure testing to ensure drivers become familiar with new and different types of warnings in their vehicles and respond accordingly.

Connected vehicle technology promises to transform our transportation system as we know it. The technology will allow our nation to move beyond measures that help drivers survive crashes—to systems that help drivers avoid crashes altogether.