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Facilitating the Introduction of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

Thomas Topolski, Executive Vice President, Parsons
Eric Redman, Vice President, Parsons

How many of us have had a family picnic ruined by an army of ants? Almost everyone, but despite the annoyance or inconvenience there is much to learn about how ants organize for the greater good. Ant colonies are self-organized systems of complex collective behaviors, which arise as the product of interactions between many individuals each following a simple set of rules, not via top-down instruction from elite individuals or the queen.
The phenomenon you observe when you see a flock of birds, an army of ants or swarm of bees is known as Swarm Intelligence. The assemblage of insects and animals seemingly move as one, and no one individual collides with another. Unfortunately human drivers do not exhibit such qualities, which is why there are in excess of 1.35 million people killed on roads globally each year The same underpinnings at work in the swarm are an inspiration to autonomous vehicles, which holds the promise to make the movement of goods more pleasant and safer, saving countless lives each year.

Recent innovations in connected vehicle technology have created opportunities as well as challenges for public agencies and private companies alike. Existing road and highway infrastructure require expensive ongoing maintenance, yet agencies must have an eye toward the future and be mindful of changing design and technology requirements. Private vendors are increasingly offering technology; however, in the absence of a thorough understanding of its impact on existing design, the quality of life and usability for citizens may be adversely impacted. Moreover, after technology is deployed asset management, security and ongoing inspections are essential to ensure systems continue to operate properly.

Parsons has significant experience in designing and deploying connected and autonomous vehicle systems and support services. In general, the following considerations are important when selecting roadside technology systems:

  • Does the agency have the personnel capabilities to support existing connected vehicle infrastructure, and if not, will additional training be required?
  • Are regional connected vehicle capabilities available, and can collaboration be enhanced with standard development organizations and best practices?
  • Is there a plan for standardization around deployment, interoperability and O&M for the agency and for the connected vehicle systems?
  • Has a list of messages such as SPaT, BSM, etc. been identified and associated requirements to support them?
  • It may be useful to asses and pilot new initiatives beneficial to the region with funding support from federal and other agencies, such as technology and infrastructure grants.

Empirical evidence has shown that when citizens experience properly deployed systems, the general impression is positive and welcome. Examples in Las Vegas include the autonomous shuttle system in downtown and the traffic light “time-to-green” function, allowing enabled vehicles to communicate with the infrastructure and inform drivers of the timing of a green light. Both examples improve mobility, citizen engagement, mobility and potentially safety.
Even though it often feels as though we are closer to finding life in other solar systems than we are to traveling in self-driving vehicles I remain optimistic that fully autonomous vehicles are closer than we think. You do not have to drive a Tesla to experience autonomous technology, indeed many of the ordinary cars we drive today include lane drifting and breaking assistance as well as self-parking features. I, for one, will gladly give up my car when true autonomous vehicles are available!

IRF Global R2T Conference & Exhibition: November 19-22, 2019

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