Why the Best Autonomous Vehicle is a Connected Vehicle

As the traditional auto manufacturers (original equipment manufacturers or OEMs) work to develop autonomous vehicles, the federal government has spent most of its time focused on new forms of vehicular connectivity.  And, I make the case here that, for safety, connected vehicles (CVs) should come first!

Still the question remains If vehicles are to be autonomous, what is the role of connectivity in an autonomous future? Is it even needed at all?  

and the answer is YES! here’s why:

Safety – 

I want to share an image of the street that crosses in front of the exit to my neighborhood:

Its a beautiful stretch of road, 50 mph, straight, kind of hilly – a great drive! the problem is, here is the spot I use to get in and out of my neighborhood:

Its a huge safety hazard to take a right turn – or a left turn for that matter! And it shows, at that spot, in the last 7 years, there have been 19 crashes, involving 41 cars and 77 people.  This is a great example of where an autonomous vehicle would be limited just like a human driver. AV sensors, which we talk about here, are line of sight sensors – and just like humans, they can not magically see around corners.  However, if we install connected technology, cars CAN “see around corners” as radio signals can pass through barriers or are otherwise reflected to get to their target. Suddenly, the above scenario gets a lot safer, as does every other blind corner in the United States.

System Efficiency –

If AVs are connected they could access a whole set of performance gains, such as coordinated movements like platooning.  In platooning, cars coordinate with each other to drive one behind the other, making a train of vehicles.  This platooning would cut drag from wind resistance, and that would save gas.  Convoys could also ensure that there is maximum throughput of vehicles.  This all would be particularly helpful in trucking, and could make sights like this a lot more common on our highways:

 

In addition, there’s a whole extra set of infrastructure signals we could automate.  For instance, there is some neat research that will lead to eliminating stop lights.  Look at this hypnotic video:

All this could lead to huge gains in system capacity.

Congestion Management & Data –  

In addition to having systems on the roadside that should make things smoother, there is great potential to collect real time data of vehicle movements.  With this, a centralized control system could really help increase roadway operations.  For instance, what if traffic signal timing could be changed in response to heavier traffic.  Or what if routes for emergency vehicles could be planned because we knew, in real time, which corridors were particularly congested. The power of this data could really help optimize the entire transportation grid!

Rural Scenarios –

Rural scenarios are often ignored in CAV analysis, however, over 54% of the the traffic fatalities in Texas occur on rural roadways.  These roadways often have high speeds and many blind corners and elevation changes that produce a dangerous combination for rural drivers.  Overtaking maneuvers in particular, to get around a tractor or another slow moving vehicle, create highly dangerous head on traffic scenarios and 5,652 crashes resulted from this in Texas in 2015. If cars were connected, particularly with a technology that works over a long distance, like LTE, alot of this could be worked out.  Cars could be aware of other cars wherever they are in the world.  So cars approaching each other would have ample warning to change course.

So there it is, there are a few reasons why connectivity would make even AVs better!  Because of these reasons and because connectivity should happen first, we should make sure our policies and plans definitely include connectivity.

until next time,

James