How we travel is changing – and San Diego (among others) is in the driver's seat

Thu, 2017-11-02 16:18 -- Doug Peeples

Predictions for when autonomous cars, buses, shuttles and trucks will be routinely tooling through city streets range from next year to 10-15 years from now. Disruptive technologies like driverless vehicles don't really have a 'due date' although one thing is certain: they're coming, and the future of transportation will be very different as a result. The cities, counties and states that are ahead of the curve and ready to accommodate driverless vehicles will be the big winners, and they're preparing for the future now.

For example, San Diego will be the site of a first of its kind field trial of cellular connected car technology for autonomous vehicles to be conducted by Council Global Lead Partners Qualcomm and AT&T and Associate Partner Ford. As a consequence, San Diego will be among the pioneering cities and regions others will learn from and emulate as the next generation of transportation unfolds. — Doug Peeples

Later this year some of the cars negotiating San Diego, California suburb Chula Vista's streets will be very different from the others. They will be part of a test fleet of vehicles equipped with the latest technologies that will enable them to communicate with each other and see, hear and respond to the environment around them.

Those specially-equipped Ford cars are part of what is said to be the first announced U.S. trial of Cellular-V2X connected car technology (C-V2X). The project is a collaborative effort by Qualcomm Technologies, AT&T, Ford, Nokia, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), Caltrans, the city of Chula Vista and intelligent transportation solutions company McCain, Inc.

Making mobility, safer, automated and more efficient
The test will cover a lot of ground. The intent is to demonstrate and evaluate the potential of C-V2X to improve automotive safety, traffic efficiency and automated driving. It also will show car makers and transportation operators the cost efficiencies that can be realized with cellular-equipped vehicles and their interactions with cellular base stations and road infrastructure.

"Leveraging the evolution of embedded cellular technologies for V2X communications holds great potential to advance safety benefits to all road users," said Cameron Coursey, VP for AT&T Internet of Things Solutions. AT&T' 4G LTE network communications will complement Qualcomm Technologies C-V2X platforms.

But why San Diego?
San Diego is Qualcomm Technologies' hometown, but there are many reasons it was chosen as the test site. SANDAG was designated as an autonomous vehicle proving ground by the U.S. Department of Transportation in January, an advantage shared with only nine other cities. And it has 10 years of experience with autonomous vehicle (AV) testing in collaboration with UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon and others. The San Diego region also contains leading wireless and cybersecurity companies and academic institutions involved with R&D in robotics.

In addition to its willingness to engage in public/private collaboration, SANDAG was the state's first planning agency to recognize and address AVs in its long-range transportation plan. San Diego's commitment to smart cities technology probably didn't hurt, either. The city began work earlier this year on an IoT platform that is expected to be the world's largest.

Zeroing in on intersections
One of the reasons AVs are an attractive proposition for cities is that the great majority of traffic accidents are caused by human error and driverless vehicles are expected to minimize them. Since a lot of those traffic accidents occur at intersections many local governments are using smart city technologies to make them safer and more efficient.

The Canadian city of Stratford, Ontario has high hopes to be the country's first to be AV-ready and to build the necessary communications infrastructure. The city selected Council Lead Partner Miovision to build the network and add the applications at all of the city's traffic signals that will allow AVs to talk to each other — and get the information they need about traffic conditions and hazards from the intersections.

Florida's Orange County is using Miovision's SmartLink to connect remote traffic signals at intersections. The solution serves two purposes: the central signal controller is notified automatically if there is a problem with a signal so it can be repaired quickly. It also collects traffic and signal data operators use for remote network maintenance and to ensure traffic is moving efficiently.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.