On the Road to Connected Vehicles

On the Road to Connected Vehicles

This piece was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of electroindustry.

by Dr. W.H. “Bill” Sowell, MBA, PhD, President, Eberle Design, Inc.

Dr. Sowell is a Member of the NEMA Board of Governors, Vice Chair of the NEMA 3TS Transportation Management Systems and Associated Control Devices Section, and Chair of the NEMA Performance Measures Technical Committee.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 35,000 people die from traffic-related collisions each year in the U.S. Globally, that number is more than 1.35 million. If these traffic-related deaths received the daily attention of the public and the media, it would be equivalent to hearing on the news about a large airliner crashing each day.

Enter the prospect of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV).  By taking the human element out of driving and ground transportation, would it be possible to end up with zero traffic-related fatalities?

CAV is not a new concept. It was pictured in a 1957 Life Magazine advertisement by Central Power and Light Company. The concept of an electrically powered and self-driven auto was a dream of the future then, and such technology  was elusive. However, CAV is here today, and it is immediately deployable in terms of technology. Sadly, widespread CAV deployment lacks funding.

What new business models can be developed that will pay for surface transportation infrastructure like upgrading traffic signal cabinets and CAV radio transceivers?

With the increasing use of electrically powered vehicles, federal and state gasoline tax revenue is declining. There are not enough charging stations for the coming demand for electrically powered vehicles. How can we fund CAV and electric vehicle deployment quickly and efficiently?

Presently, there are approximately 400,000 signalized intersections in the U.S. Fewer than 250 of the initial test deployments of those signalized intersections are equipped to receive the signals generated by CAVs with either connected vehicle to infrastructure (C-V2I) or dedicated short-range communications (DSRC). Recently, U.S. Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai mandated that 5G/C-V2I communications would be used in the U.S. for CAV communications.

How do we pay to upgrade every signalized U.S. intersection to receive CAVs that generate a basic safety message (BSM) and vulnerable road user (VRU) message set? While public/private partnerships (3P) have proven to be successful outside of the U.S., using a concessionaire design- build-finance-operate model, the U.S. has yet to develop an acceptable business model for signalized intersections using a 3P.

The issue of long-term roadway infrastructure development continues to be bogged down in the traditional political and lobby-rich conference rooms of Capitol Hill. Our elected and appointed officials lack a sense of urgency when it comes to the rapid deployment of proven CAV technologies and the allocation of several billion dollars to upgrade new intersections to be CAV-ready.

Want to save lives? Contact your elected officials and ask them to support the rapid deployment of CAV technology. The life saved may be your own.

The NEMA 3TS Section has been hard at work generating a NEMA TS 10 connected vehicle Standard, which facilitates the requirements for vehicles and signalized intersections to optimally communicate, enhancing motorist and pedestrian safety. We will continue to see CAV testbeds; however, at the present rate of deployment, it will be 2035 to 2040 until we see widespread CAV deployments in the largest U.S. cities. The entry of mobility as a service and signals as a service could lead to promising new business models that we may soon see as more CAV-ready intersections are deployed. ei

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