Skip to Content

Technology Impacts and the Future of Transportation

| Infrastructure

You’ve seen the headlines – automakers and technology companies are promising driverless vehicles in the next few years!  They are publicly testing vehicles, making bold predictions and experiencing a mix of attention-grabbing news both positive and not-so-positive (for example, the recent Uber crash in Arizona).

I’ll be the first to agree there are some truly remarkable developments underway in transportation, and the future of mobility is changing rapidly.  However, this is a much more complex issue than the headlines would have you believe.

For example, the terms connected, autonomous, automated and driverless are often used interchangeably – but in the rush to hype the technology revolution we often don’t get this message: the terms each mean something different.

  • A vehicle can be connected by different communication means (cellular, satellite, short range communications) but still be driven like a normal car/truck.  The federal government has done a lot of research on connected vehicles and concluded that some applications and strategies could significantly reduce accidents and roadway fatalities.
  • A vehicle can be autonomous and operate purely through the guidance of sensors, cameras, and GPS – being aware of its immediate surroundings but not the bigger picture.  Many of you might have seen the Waymo (formerly Google) car log a million miles in several locations around the United States.
  • A vehicle can be automated to combine both connected and autonomous technology, in order to operate in the immediate vicinity but with awareness of what’s going on around the corner, three cars ahead, or a mile down the road.  To many industry experts this is the ideal combination, providing technological convenience alongside maximum safety benefits.
  • A vehicle can be driverless but require occasional human intervention, or it could be driverless and require no human intervention.  There are different “levels of automation” defined by the industry and government that attempt to define these different interactions.

You can rapidly see how confusing this can be from a planning and engineering perspective – and it’s even more complex from a policy, regulatory and legislative perspective.

Join me on Tuesday April 18, 2017, at the Chamber’s Annual Transportation & Infrastructure Summit, where we’ll go into a little more detail about our increasingly connected society and how the advent of connected and automated vehicles are changing the way we look at mobility.

We will see more transportation advancements in the next 10 years than many of us have seen over the past 50 years!

Steve Kuciemba
National Intelligent Transportation Systems Practice Leader
WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff