Making Self-Driving Cars Safer – Where the Sensor Meets the Road

The intersection between AV technology and the roads themselves will be essential to realize the dream to significantly reduce the number of crashes and fatalities by reducing opportunity for human error
By Marwan Abboud

Are you ready to share the road with a self-driving car? The technology, with less potential for human driver error, has the potential to make the roads safer. According to the National Safety Council, 90 percent of all traffic accidents in the United States are caused by driver error. In 2015, these deadly mistakes accounted for about 35,200 deaths and more than $412 billion in lost wages and productivity, medical claims and property damage.

Expectations are high for Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology to improve the driver experience and ultimately save lives. Every day, vehicle manufacturers bring us closer to this goal. Auto-emergency braking, blind spot detection, and lane change assistance are just a few of the features advertised as valuable safety options for cars coming off the assembly line.

First, though, we need to study how all of these technologies will perform on real roads with all their quirks, surprises, and ever-changing conditions. To help highway infrastructure itself evolve to be ready for technology, traffic engineers at global engineering and consulting firm Arcadis are testing Brand Motion’s ADAS-1000 aftermarket technology as a step in understanding how AVs will need to connect to traffic dynamics, the behavior of the human in the car, and the road itself.

Expectations are high for Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology to improve the driver experience and ultimately save lives.

Arcadis expects to test the first phase of aftermarket products for two to five years in preparation for the next stage of ADAS – Dedicated Short Range Communication—and is already looking at eight states to test short range aftermarket products. Short range communications technology includes V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) communication. Combine the two and you’ve got V2X (vehicle-to-everything) technology. With V2X, cars use wireless technology similar to Wi-Fi to become “connected” so they can communicate with each other and with the infrastructure around them. If a car is about to run a red light, connected vehicles within a certain distance from the intersection receive a signal from the traffic light and can send signals to each other warning them of imminent danger.

To achieve this, the car and field equipment need to provide instant communication: about 1/100th of a second reaction time. That’s because at 50 miles per hour, every second of delay from threat to perception results in more than 70 feet of travel before a human will apply the brakes. High-speed reaction time by the sensors gives the car and driver a better chance to avert an accident but does require the technology to be fully integrated with the vehicle.

One barrier to the adoption of this technology is the road infrastructure itself. Funding shortages and infrastructure lags could mean another 10 years before all traffic signals in the U.S. are programmed for dedicated short range communications (DSRC). To move things along, the government has earmarked four billion dollars for pilot testing of next generation technology in several U.S. locations, and estimates that by 2040, 80 percent of cars on the road will be fully autonomous. As vehicle testing continues, the experience is leading planners to better understand what technologies need to be in place on-board the vehicle and even on the roads themselves.

For instance, you know how hard it is to drive at night when it’s raining and you can’t see the lines on the road? Sensors also need to see road markings to guide the car. This puts more pressure on Departments of Transportation to ensure that simple things like highway markings are maintained. Not only does this scenario raise safety issues, they could have huge budget implications for local and regional highway departments.

This intersection between AV technology and the roads themselves may not capture the public imagination, but will be essential to significantly reduce the number of crashes and fatalities by reducing opportunity for human error.

Marwan Abboud is ARCADIS’ Senior Vice President for Traffic, Planning and Intelligent Systems Operations Manager and Technical Knowledge and Innovation (TKI) Director. For more information, visit www.arcadis.com.

 

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