In early June, Rob Lorden attended the American ITS Conference in Pittsburgh. Topics that held particular interest for him were connected and automated vehicles, in particular truck trains and freight logistics, and the Big Data storage and analytics that are consequent upon their adoption.

Significant cost reductions/economic benefits have been estimated from moving to autonomous vehicles and many examples of autonomous vehicles successfully driven on long journeys on public roads were given in the conference.

These vehicles rely on a number of sources of information including lidar, cameras and sensors. This will ultimately include data from other autonomous vehicles (including cyclists and possibly pedestrians) and many other sources including phasing information from traffic signals.  An issue raised was that current sensors pick up removed road markings, and don’t distinguish between these and current road markings because of the difference in road surface texture.

One possible solution discussed for the early adoption of autonomous commercial vehicles was an elevated, and possibly electrified, freeway for autonomous trucks/vehicles above existing freeway medians. This would be a ‘T’ rising from the centre median. Such a structure may only need to be one lane each way.

Daimler has done a lot of work on autonomous truck trains, lead by the first vehicle, with each truck individually powered. Below is a short clip showing one of Daimler’s autonomous trucks.

There is no limit to the potential length of the train other than how other road users would be affected. An elevated freeway as above would be good for autonomous truck trains. Autonomous trucks may be allowed in some states by 2016.

The biggest consequence of all this technology is that connected/autonomous vehicles will require enormous amounts of data to be stored and made available in real-time to many users and Big Data management is a significant issue for the industry.

Based on Rob’s discussions at the conference, the things New Zealand can do now to prepare for autonomous vehicles are:

  1. Ensure that good quality road markings are applied
  2. Make allowance for direct short-range radio communication devices to be installed in all new traffic signals and similar installations (these typically have a range of 0.5 miles and tell a vehicle when its signal will change so it can adjust its speed, etc.)
  3. Remove road markings in a manner that does not leave a “distinguishing mark”
  4. Use the orange temporary stick-on plastic road markings for temporary lane markings
  5. Consider future Big Data issues
  6. Make allowances for future technology in ATOC type TMCs.