In the last issue of TTi, I reported on my visit to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute conference on The Connected Vehicle. I began by recalling my experience 18 years ago at the demonstration of the automated highway in San Diego. Since then, I was reminded that the idea of connected cars is much older than that.
I suggest that you search for a 1958 Disney cartoon, Disney’s Magic Highway. It’s quite amusing and a bit prescient. It predicted large VMS, in-vehicle radar, and rearview cameras. It’s only eight minutes long, so even good for those
of us with short attention spans.
As amusing as it is, there is value in comparing the 1958 vision and the 1996 visions of the highway of the future, and those continue to play out today. In both cases there was a lot of information provided to the driver from infrastructure. The difference is that Disney envisioned autonomous vehicles under the control of the driver and the automated highway saw vehicles controlled in platoons.
Today both trends are in evidence. OEMs are installing more and more autonomous safety equipment that can offer parking assist, lane keeping and blind-spot assistance. They are also working toward more autonomous cars in the next decade, responsive to the infrastructure, requiring little or no driver involvement. There is, however, a blind spot: OEMs talk about their ‘driver’; railroads talk about their ‘customers’. The reality is that we are not mono-modal, but travelers trying to get from A to B. In my last column I was concerned about how long it will take for connected vehicles to be deployed, with regard to federal rule-making. I’m beginning to sound more and more like the comedian Lewis Black, always complaining, but we are, after all, about the same age. There has to be a quicker way. Let me suggest it now. It goes back to a decision in the Bush Administration to separate the application layer from the communications layer. That supported the proliferation of internet connectivity in vehicles well in advance
of DSRC connectivity for V2V.
The internet provides infotainment: connectivity and music. There are lots of traffic apps and even a few reservation systems. Safety apps will either standalone or be connected via DSRC, but there is room in infotainment to start to bridge the gap by connecting to the transportation system. How about integrated real-time information on parking and transit, reservations at lots, and a connection to payment systems for tolling and parking?
We are moving toward an increasingly urban and multimodal world and the in-vehicle devices, like the infotainment system, can begin to support it. Let’s recognize that sophisticated travelers want to use their connections to ease the logistics of the trip as much to enjoy it. They can already get information, but let’s allow them to connect to it as well and to do it with a single account. I will have more to say about this next month.
Autonomous vehicles are on the way as are V2V safety systems, both slowly, but the power of connectivity is in our hands.