The Game is On – FHWA is Seeking Your Input on Smart Cars

USDOT Connected Vehicles ImageThe USDOT and several other transportation agencies around the nation have been paying close attention to the emergence of the smart car. Over the last few years, they have funded research in this technology and studied how to integrate it into the existing system. And now, they are reaching out in several ways to share what they have learned and seek input from the public and other professionals to help develop guidance for connected vehicles. Here is an excerpt of the notice from FHWA:

"The Federal Highway Administration plans to issue deployment guidance on connected vehicles to transportation infrastructure owner/operators in 2015. Your input is needed. Tell us what would best support decision making and deployments at the state and local level."

You can read more about this effort and access the link to provide your own thoughts and ideas at (The link to provide input was not working for me so if it does not for you, here are the email addresses it is set up to link to: and FHWA also collected public input at a session held on Jan. 16, 2014, in Washington, D.C. As the proceedings from that meeting become available, they will also be provided at that site.

Before providing input, FHWA suggests people read an article in Public Roads, Linking Drivers and Roads, to get more background on the technology and potential benefits which include the ability to:

  • deliver more accurate and robust hazard warnings to drivers
  • collect data for use in improving the transportation system
  • deliver vehicle location and speed information to traffic signals to adjust phasing and avoid vehicle idling
  • deliver road conditions to State and local agencies to help improve maintenance and service
  • deliver traffic and transit information to help travelers select optimal routes
  • provide specific, dynamic warnings that are more reliable than static signs and more likely to capture drivers' attention
  • provide invehicle alerts to drivers about potential violations of upcoming red lights
  • alert motorists when it is unsafe to enter intersections
  • alert the motorist to slow down if a driver's current speed is unsafe for traveling through an upcoming road curve
  • implement crash avoidance systems
  • inform visually impaired pedestrians of when to cross at intersections and how to remain aligned with crosswalks
  • allow for smartphones of registered blind users to alert traffic signal controllers and drivers to the presence of visually impaired pedestrians waiting to cross
  • enable granting buses priority at traffic signals based on factors such as number of passengers, schedule and headway adherence, service type, and peak direction of travel
  • provide travel information to commercial vehicle operators, including freight-specific route guidance, and facilitate coordinated load management to reduce empty-load trips
  • facilitate integrated transit operations, such as passenger connection protection, transit dispatching, and new forms of operational practices intended to enhance dynamic ridesharing

Another interesting section in the article summarizes the studies funded by FHWA and provides links to their findings.There are at least five other resources cited where you can learn more about this technology.

I've included a few more resources below for those who are interested in reading more about this technology:

USDOT Connected Vehicle Research Page:

Videos discussing connected vehicles from the opening session of ITE 2013 Annual Meeting and Exhibit in Boston, MA.

Tom Bamonte Twitter Stream (Tom regularly posts links to stories about driverless technology) :



Driverless vehicles – It’s Only a Matter of Time

Google Autonomous Vehicle Patent Image


This month, Google received Patent No. 8078349 for "Transitioning a Mixed-Mode Vehicle to Autonomous Mode." The vehicle appears to be able to function in a driver-controlled mode, yet has the ability to be placed in a "driver-less" mode. When placed in this mode, the vehicle will use non-human inputs to monitor its location and proceed along a predefined path. When Google first applied for this patent, I saw some stories that did not seem to take this device seriously. I suppose it could be that as a society, we are so entrenched with the status quo when it comes to transportation that we cannot imagine anything other than what we have today. But for me, this is just one more sign that we are on our way to replacing cars with another type of transportation that does not require constant input and control by a human.

Google Autonomous Vehicle Patent Image

The key with the Google car is that it not only provides the promise of totally autonomous vehicles, but also the transition needed to get there. When I describe to people the thought of a personal rapid transit system run with either public or private cars, one of the questions has been how to transition to that system. And after seeing the Google car, it does seem to be a good solution. As infrastructure for autonomous vehicles is built out, we will need the ability to switch between modes in a manner similar to that used by the Google car.

And speaking of infrastructure, the other question or concern I hear, particularly from those in my field of civil engineering, is what will be used as a surface for these type of vehicles? I like to think it would not be pavement because I am not sure pavement as we have today is sustainable. Every year we spend an enormous amount of money and natural resources in just maintaining our roadways. And look at the difficulty Congress is having passing a highway bill. Not only can they not agree on what to fund and how much, but one of our main sources of revenue for highways, the gas tax, appears to no longer be viable or sustainable.

Add this in with the feedback we are hearing from the general public,

  • No more new roads
  • Reduce congestion and increase efficiencies
  • Reluctance to use public transit
  • More bike and pedestrian friendly roadways
  • Ever-present concern over drunk driving and now texting/talking while driving
  • Concern over waste generated from construction

and, if you deal with these restrictions every day, eventually you might start wondering just how long cars have left. Then if you begin to imagine how it could be with autonomous vehicles, PRTs, Google cars, or whatever you want to call them, you wonder why we are not at least talking about it. No one would ever have to worry about drinking/texting/talking and driving, and if you elevate the cars, you gain a tremendous amount of green space, save resources for other purposes, and don't have to worry about waste disposal from construction. People in the future will wonder how we could have used such a primitive system.

Yet, I don't hear these discussions from others in my field, and I worry that it will be another innovation that passes us by. If we don't at least monitor, understand, plan, think about our role in this transition, and work to become part of it, we will be left on the sidelines while a company like Google takes the lead on infrastructure design.