Gov­ern­ments, car com­pa­nies must re­solve their com­pet­ing goals for self-driv­ing cars

Manteca Bulletin - - On The Road - Univer­sity of Flor­ida

What self-driv­ing cars want, and what peo­ple want from them, varies widely. And of­ten th­ese de­sires are at odds with each other. For in­stance, car­mak­ers – and the de­sign­ers of the soft­ware that will run au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles – know that it’s safest if cars stay far away from each other. But traf­fic en­gi­neers know that if ev­ery car op­er­ated to en­sure lots of sur­round­ing space, lo­cal roads and high­ways alike would be clogged for miles, and no­body would get any­where.

An­other in­her­ent con­flict in­volves how cars han­dle crises. No con­sumer wants to buy a self-driv­ing car that’s pro­grammed, even in the most re­mote of cir­cum­stances, to kill its driver in­stead of some­one else (even if it would save a class of kinder­garten­ers or a group of No­bel Prize win­ners). How­ever, if ev­ery car is pro­grammed al­ways to save its oc­cu­pants at any cost, pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists are at risk.

As fed­eral reg­u­la­tions for self-driv­ing cars ad­vance in con­gres­sional votes and the U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion is­sues guide­lines, an im­por­tant part of real progress will be how ev­ery­one in­volved ap­proaches those in­her­ent con­flicts. Re­search at the Univer­sity of Flor­ida Trans­porta­tion In­sti­tute, where I serve as the di­rec­tor, shows that the key to re­solv­ing th­ese com­pe­ti­tions of goals is com­mu­ni­ca­tion among all the el­e­ments of the trans­porta­tion net­work – cars, pedes­tri­ans, bi­cy­cles, guardrails, traf­fic lights, stop signs, road­ways them­selves and ev­ery­thing else. And if they’re all go­ing to talk to each other, the peo­ple who make all those things need to talk to each other too.

Our in­sti­tute is pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to do that. Our ef­forts in­clude work­ing with the Flor­ida Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and the City of Gainesville to set up an au­ton­o­mous shut­tle between the UF cam­pus and down­town Gainesville and part­ner­ing with in­dus­try to cre­ate a test­ing area for au­ton­o­mous cars and other ad­vanced trans­porta­tion tech­nolo­gies on cam­pus roads and sur­round­ing high­ways. But with so lit­tle co­or­di­na­tion in to­day’s trans­porta­tion world, there’s a long way to go. Problems large and small The road sys­tem in the U.S. has se­ri­ous problems. Amer­i­cans spend more than 40 hours per year stuck in traf­fic; more than 30,000 peo­ple die each year in crashes on U.S. roads, mak­ing cars one of the lead­ing causes of death for Amer­i­cans un­der the age of 64. Th­ese are se­ri­ous problems, and many hope that au­ton­o­mous cars can help solve them.

Na­tion­wide sta­tis­tics can mask smaller is­sues, though. The coun­try’s trans­porta­tion sys­tem is full of ex­am­ples where co­or­di­na­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion would be ex­tremely help­ful., and even where the in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents may work but the sys­tem over­all isn’t as stream­lined as it could be.

Many com­mu­ni­ties have ma­jor roads where driv­ers have to stop un­nec­es­sar­ily be­cause traf­fic lights aren’t co­or­di­nated among the dif­fer­ent towns driv­ers pass through. And be­cause dif­fer­ent govern­ment agen­cies op­er­ate high­ways and lo­cal roads, when emer­gen­cies hap­pen, driv­ers aren’t al­ways rerouted smoothly or ef­fi­ciently. Mak­ing a place for test­ing With the Flor­ida Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and the city of Gainesville, our in­sti­tute is build­ing what we’re call­ing I-STREET, a test­ing in­fra­struc­ture

for au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles and re­lated tech­nolo­gies. As new com­po­nents such as sen­sors and other mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment are in­stalled on roads and high­ways in and around the univer­sity’s cam­pus, re­searchers will be able to eval­u­ate a range of ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies. For in­stance, we’ll use cars that can talk to the other el­e­ments of the sys­tem, in­clud­ing each other, and can drive them­selves on roads equipped with sen­sors to mon­i­tor traf­fic con­di­tions.

In pre­lim­i­nary sim­u­la­tions, we have found real sav­ings in travel time with self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles that can com­mu­ni­cate with their sur­round­ings and ad­just their paths on the go. For ex­am­ple, when self-driv­ing cars and traf­fic lights can talk to each other, they can ad­just cars’ speeds and the tim­ing of red and green lights to help ev­ery car move more smoothly. Depend­ing on the level of traf­fic and the num­ber of self­driv­ing cars mixed into hu­man-driven traf­fic, travel times can drop by 16 to 36 per­cent, which may save nearly a minute of de­lay per car.

On high­ways, a ma­jor bot­tle­neck hap­pens around on­ramps, where en­ter­ing ve­hi­cles may have trou­ble find­ing open­ings in fast-mov­ing traf­fic.

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