This piece was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of electroindustry.
As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, innovative minds are being harnessed around the globe to find the best mitigation strategies, the most effective therapies, and the earliest possible vaccine. Tell Google to search for the term “COVID-19,” and you will immediately find nearly three billion results. By contrast, “autonomous vehicle,” a perennial hot topic for nearly a decade and the focus of this magazine issue, delivers a mere 120 million hits.
While the situation is dynamic and rapidly changing, the experiences of early-wave countries suggest that life can return to normal when accompanied by a rigorous testing and containment regime. At the same time, it seems safe to predict that the knock-on effects of COVID-19 will be felt in unexpected ways for decades to come.
It is too early to assess the specific impacts of COVID-19 on our transportation infrastructure and the advanced transportation systems that travelers crave. But, already mid-crisis, a few things stand out.
First, mobility means community spread. No matter where disease originates, it thrives best when carried by a human—on a bike, a train, a cruise ship, or a plane. As we make our infrastructure smarter, a vital data point will be the health of the passenger.
Second, micromobility is not just about convenience. The humble bicycle was declared “essential infrastructure” in major cities around the world so that riders could avoid the cramped spaces of subways and buses. Delivery drivers bringing groceries and carryout items helped many more people obey stay-at-home orders.
Third, and most optimistically, building consensus around a shared purpose and the need for universal solutions can dramatically speed up results. Private individuals and pop-up advocacy organizations have worked alongside governments around the world to deliver reliable apps and real-time data resources to help societies make smarter decisions.
The tragic losses and severe lessons of the pandemic have made our hearts heavy. But as we mend, let’s hope that these experiences force us to look beyond medicine and public health preparedness to reflect on how quickly change can happen when there is a collective will to move forward. It will be interesting, and hopefully inspiring, to see how the transportation sector responds. ei
Chair, NEMA Board of Governors