Collaborations between DOTs, OEMs and Silicon Valley are the future

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I’m excited and honored to provide my insights into one of the most important topics facing us today – mobility. Like my esteemed colleague and predecessor in this column, Don Hunt, I bring a DOT’s perspective. For those of you who do not know me, I was the director of the Michigan Department
of Transportation (MDOT) from 2006 through 2018. I spent 30 years with MDOT, starting as an engineer, working my way to director. During my tenure, I had the privilege of developing leading-edge connected and automated vehicle (CAV) programs locally, as well as advocating for and helping shape CAV policies nationally.

While the convergence of technologies brings an exciting time in our industry, the technology proponents are barraging transportation agencies and DOTs from all angles, creating uncertainty and raising more questions than answers. Unfortunately, from a DOT perspective, uncertainty begets risk. As a result, we are slow to act when there is additional risk – actual or perceived.

Nevertheless I believe connected mobility is the answer to our future transportation challenges. Whether we like it or not, it’s already happening. From the collaborations between Silicon Valley and Detroit to automated ridesharing services and the Internet of Things (IoT), connected mobility is marching full steam ahead. This means the real issue will be how we adapt, accept, integrate, and apply these technologies into an increasingly connected mobility ecosystem.

In my view, connected mobility means a technology-based, multimodal transportation ecosystem that provides new levels of mobility, sustainability, and equal accessibility. While that sounds simple on the surface, it comes with deep-rooted complexities.

Among the non-traditional traffic issues I had to consider at MDOT for CAV infrastructure were cloud computing, AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, and DSRC versus 5G communications. Auto makers are accelerating their own connected technologies programs (according to automation levels 1 to5 as described by SAE J 3016-2018). Supporting this, many OEMs will offer level 2 automation subsystems within a couple of years. Moreover, research
and development commitments are scheduled to make level 4 and 5 automation available within the next five to seven years. The CAV considerations are daunting to say the least.

The critical issue is the CAV transition period – the many years where a combination of vehicles with varying levels of connectivity and automation will share the road. This will be a challenging time for drivers, infrastructure owners (municipalities, DOTs) and maintenance crews, enforcement agencies, insurance providers, educators and others.

I believe our efforts should be focused on this transition period. We need to appropriately upgrade our infrastructure now in preparation for the larger connected mobility ecosystem. But how will we maintain and pay for it? How will we future-proof the required upgrades? How much of a role will private and public partnerships play? I look forward to the journey with you as we take on these questions and challenges in upcoming columns. Until next time, travel safe.

Kirk Steudle is senior vice president of Econolite and former director of Michigan DOT. He can be reached at KSteudle@econolite.com

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About Author

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Rachelle joined Traffic Technology International in early 2016 after having worked for an HR magazine and prior to that, as a freelance sub editor for various lifestyle consumer magazines. As deputy editor, she supports the editor in making each issue and updating the website. Outside of work, she enjoys tap dancing, playing the piano and video games, and eating spicy food.

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