In the world of traffic technology, it would serve us well not to underestimate where science and technology can take us.
Back in the early ‘90s, I had a first-hand look at the Travtek “smart” car demonstration in Orlando while part of the Florida DOT. The on-board navigation system was rudimentary at best and the computerized voice quality was first generation interactive voice response technology: hollow and impersonal.
The promise, however, was there. Smart cars could one day help us navigate the metropolitan mazes, and real-time traffic information would one day be ours for the taking at the push of a button or better yet, the utterance of a voice command.
In 2004, Will Smith starred in the film, I-Robot, which gave viewers a prediction of traffic management in the year 2035. Smart cars and roads operate with cool efficiency, with traffic moving at speed and humans no more than occupants, with destinations, distancing and maneuvering left to the vehicle and the road.
In the film, safety is sacrificed only when Smith’s character overrides the system and goes to manual control, leading to a number of crashes during a chase scene.
Today, that future is rapidly coming upon us. GPS navigation is becoming a standard feature on automobiles and companies that produce on-board navigation devices, once obscure, have become household names. Traffic management centers have sprung up across the globe, providing real-time traffic data to motorists.
Smart car-smart roads
Most intriguing is the development of the “smart road” concept. US DOT’s Vehicle–Infrastructure Integration (VII) initiative is building on advances made in the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI) to create the foundation of the smart car-smart roads future.
A National VII Coalition has been established to determine the feasibility of widespread deployment and to establish an implementation strategy. The coalition consists of automobile manufacturers, AASHTO, 10 state DOTs and US DOT.
Some states are moving forward in earnest. Test beds are being built to prove the concepts and test the technology. Projects underway are exploring the following:
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