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Connected Vehicles & Smart Roads

Have you heard of the ‘Great Horse Manure Crisis’?

 In London in the late 1800’s, there were over 50,00 horses transporting people around the city by cab, bus and personal cart.  Each horse produced between 15 and 35 pounds of manure and around two pints of urine per day, and had a life expectancy of only three years. They created a massive public health and safety issue - streets were obscured, and huge numbers of flies swarmed, spreading diseases like typhoid fever.

In 1894, The Times predicted every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure within 50 years. In 1898 the manure crisis was debated at the world’s first international urban planning conference in New York (a city facing the same issue), and the problem seemed as insurmountable as piles of manure swallowed the streets.

No one could have predicted that by 1912, this great crisis would be entirely resolved, or that someone in 2018 would be using it as an introduction for how emerging technology can change a conversation, city, country, and the world entirely.  The technology that solved the problem? Motorised vehicles.

As congestion and travel time increase, the adverse impact on health is investigated, and climate change becomes visible, we explored if the next evolutions of motorised vehicles - connected, automated, and zero emissions - could provide the solutions to our new(ish), insurmountable (?), urban problems.  

We discussed:

  • The findings of Infrastructure Victoria’s newly release report, Advice on automated and zero emissions infrastructure

  • Pilot programs currently being trialled in Victoria, including AIMES

  • The infrastructure and solutions needed to support development

  • Predictions for how and when new technologies will reach the road

  • The implications for automated and connected vehicles outside of personal transport  

With panelists:

  • Dr Allison Stewart - Project Director, Automates and Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Advice, Infrastructure Victoria

  • Majid Sarvi - Professor in Transport for Smart Cities, AIMES Founding Director, University of Melbourne

  • Paul Kubat - Independent Consultant, former Smart City Lead at Singtel-Optus

  • Mark Harland - former Executive Director Marketing at GM International

What are connected vehicles and smart roads?

Connected vehicles refers to highly or fully automated vehicles, capable of driving without a human, and connected to other vehicles and infrastructure via the internet.  These vehicles are often also zero emissions - powered by electric batteries, and as such releasing no emissions from the tailpipe, charging or fuel source.

 Smart roads refers to roads that are equipped with sensors and data capture capability, to respond to changes in the environment.  They can connect with automated vehicles, or even bicycles, public transport, and traffic lights.  It’s essentially IoT for transport! (You can also request our November, 2017 IoT report to get up to speed on this technology.)

What did the Infrastructure Victoria report find?

Advice for automated and zero emissions infrastructure made 17 recommendations which were tested against seven possible future transport scenarios, including:

  • Electric Avenue: where all Victorian cars are electric

  • Private Drive: all cards are automated

  • Fleet St: no one owns their car

  • Hydrogen Highway: trucks lead a hydrogen revolution

  • Slow Lane: a mixture of automated and electric

  • High speed: automated and electric reach mainstream sooner than anticipated

  • Dead end: the automated, connected, electric hyper never occurs

Most of the scenarios - even the most conservative predictions – found that electric and automated vehicles could be positive in answering some of the primary travel issues in Victoria today;

  • An up to 91% reduction in congestion

  • An up to 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

  • $14.9 billion increase in Gross State Product in 2046

  • An up to 94% reduction in road accidents

  • An up to 50% reduction in car operating costs

  • Up to $735 million realised in health benefits

 The benefits of an automated-vehicle future were the most promising.  Not only could this technology reduce congestion and make roads safer, but also reduce travel time, improve access to services, and strengthen the economy.

While these numbers are impressive, there were downsides to the scenarios. Greenhouse gas emissions decreased by up to 25%, and energy consumption (from charging our zero emissions vehicles) increased by up to 56%.  And while congestion overall decreased, in some automated scenarios it actually increased by 600% around the CBD… imagine if we all owned autonomous vehicles and sent them back home after dropping us to work each day!

Is it possible for connected and automated vehicles to operate on Victoria’s current infrastructure?

The recommendations made by Infrastructure Victoria as part of their report, aimed to ‘make the most out of existing infrastructure’.  For this new technology to reach its data-modelled-potential, our networks - physical and technical - need to be upgraded, including;

  • Upgrading mobile networks to 5 or 6G (costing up to $1.7 billion)

  • Improving line marking on roads (costing around to $250 million)

  • Upgrading the energy networks (at least $2.2 billion)

The agency outlined a role for both government and the private sector to come together to make the necessary upgrades, but this is still only part of the equation.  

In order for connected vehicles to ‘connect’ an application/applications needs to be developed which aggregates all transportation data points - from public transportation, to cars, bikes and pedestrians. Similarly, regulation needs to move quickly to respond to the technology as it develops to a point where it either can be introduced to the market, or to encourage broad adoption.  

Speaking of public transport, does an automated future render the system redundant?

We are in the middle of a State Election campaign where a 30-year train line development, to the tune of over $50 billion, is being used to lure voters. Does a future of automated and connected vehicles threaten the role of public transport?  

Bus, tram, and train devotees will be happy to discover that public transport plays a key role in any future iteration of Victoria’s (or indeed any city’s) transport future.  The need for public transport does not disappear with the introduction of automated, and connected vehicles. In fact, public transport is shaping up to be an early adopter of automated vehicles.  

This year, La Trobe University launched the first case trial for autonomous vehicles in Australia. It aims to explore, through model deployment in real operating conditions, the use of autonomous vehicles to create a reusable commercial framework to support development of the requisite regulation and or legislation.

HM Technologies supplied 15-person shuttles for 12 months, and La Trobe will seek to create a reusable commercial framework that could support the development of regulation and legislation.

Could a smart, automated travel future have other impacts?

We know by now that emerging technologies have the power to disrupt and transform industries, forcing established power-players to reevaluate the kind of business they are in, and what they offer, in order to pivot and survive. The impact of connected, or autonomous vehicles, will extend beyond congestion and safety.

Car ownership
Getting a job at Macca’s the day after you turn 14 and nine months to save for your first car may become a thing of the past. Automated vehicles could potentially change the way that we see car ownership, with rideshare juggernauts like Uber and DiDi investing in the technology. So if these cars can operate without human direction or interaction, pick us up and drop us off, is ownership needed?  It’s likely future generations may see it as an unnecessary expense.

Brand power
Those who believed they were in the ‘ice’ industry were left out in the cold when electric refrigeration came along. Those companies that see themselves in the ‘car’ industry may find themselves in the same position.  If ownership reduces, things like brand equity, preference or loyalty become moot. Car brands will need reconsider the need they are fulfilling in transportation, and what that means for their hard-earned brand.

Insurance lays its claims in liability and responsibility.  In the currently, ethically murky world of autonomous vehicles, who is liable when an accident occurs - the owner, the manufacturer, or someone else (like the software developer)? Who do insurers insure in an ownerless future? Like death and taxes, however, one can be can be certain insurance companies will figure out a way to continue to be profitable.

What is happening now to bring us closer to an automated, connected future?

In addition to the La Trobe trial, there are research programmes, public and private investment and exploration occurring all over the world to expedite an automated future;

The University of Melbourne’s Australian Integrated Multimodel EcoSytem (AIMES) is a world-first laboratory based on Melbourne streets, and established to test highly integrated transport technology.  Smart sensors have been designed to connect all parts of the living laboratory, with a focus on ‘multimodel’ - connecting vehicles to public transport, to pedestrians, to cyclists, to smart public transport stations. The project has attracted participants and partners like CISCO, Cohda Wireless, VicRoads and ITS Australia, and were responsible for driving the collaboration of the Australian Government and the State of Michigan in the future of transport safety advances in the connected and automated vehicles.

Software development
There is somewhat of an arms race developing between the big Silicon Valley players, all driving to develop the software application that connects the data dots in smart city future. Google in particular is seeking the leverage its Google Maps data, and then there are companies like Ushr, which used lidar sensors to map cities and develop proprietary software for GM’s self-driving Cadillac.

Early adopters
Singapore began trialling autonomous vehicles as early as last year, through initiatives such as Future Urban Mobility, a partnership with MIT. Singapore's roads, temperate environment, and flat landscape are seen as the ideal testing ground for autonomous cars, taxis, buses and other vehicles and the project leverages existing infrastructure (including people’s smartphones).

In the American state of Arizona, government has made a concerted effort to attract autonomous vehicle companies.  In 2015, the government revised the definition of ‘driver’ to be either human or computer, and has been running automated vehicle trials over short routes - one of which unfortunately resulted in the death of a woman who was struck by a self-driving Uber in March.

When is a connected, automated scenario realised in Australia?

While the predictions are promising, and international case studies continue to break new ground and iron-out the technological kinks, the rate of change is unlikely to be dramatic. As mentioned previously, government regulation needs to catch-up, our energy crisis is not conducive to a potential 56% increase in usage, Arizona’s safety issues have exposed serious safety concerns, and creating true connectivity between individual vehicles, fleets, public and other modes of transport remains a major a hurdle.

All things considered while the rate of change might not be dramatic, it is likely to arrive in Victoria sooner than you think. Electric (or zero emission) vehicles are seen as the gateway to an automated future, and thanks to Tesla’s 10-year strategy, they’re already here and becoming more and more common on the roads. Most agree we are likely to see self-driving buses as early as 2020, with individually-owned autonomous vehicles by 2025, and 40% autonomy by 2040.  Connected vehicles and smart roads could very well help us solve our modern-manure-conundrum.