Automated vehicles are gaining in popularity around the world. There is quite a bit of press on the autonomous personal vehicles by Tesla, Waymo, and Uber. These vehicles operate with a wide array of sensors on board the vehicles that monitor the environment around them.
Automation Enabling Tech
Sensors alone for automation have demonstrated shortcomings in a number of scenarios. Weather, poor roadway maintenance, and line of sight have been significant limitations for sensor only solutions to automation. Increasingly, experts are recommending the use of connected vehicle technology to enhance the ability of vehicles to provide cooperative automation instead of stand alone operation. By sharing information, these vehicles can communicate their intentions with surrounding vehicles and share sensor data that may be beyond the ability of each vehicle to sense on their own. They can also communicate with the infrastructure to get accurate location information when lane lines and other visual indicators may be obscured. The use of ultra-wideband communication technology allows for this high-precision location.
Many new automated vehicle deployments are for fixed-route applications with defined coverage areas, or for first/last mile deployments around a hub. These deployments enable connected vehicle and ultra-wideband technology to assist automated operations. University campuses, business parks, downtown circulators, parking lots, and airports lend themselves well to this type of deployment.
In the world of opportunity opening now, these defined area facilities will experience an enjoyable position as factors currently slowing deployment of automation on open roads are not an issue in these scenarios. These are often private environments setting their own rules and regulations, and therefore, able to adapt faster to new technologies or concepts. They also are controlled environments where situations can be anticipated, and a reasonable level of complexity in automation will be sufficient. Today, the set of operations required for an automatic handling process could be performed with a fully automated vehicle, while the complete automation (full automation for open road driving) is still many years away.
Automated shuttles and buses are adding new vendors on a regular basis. Many cities are fielding automated shuttles that showcase their Smart City efforts. While vehicle demonstrations have mainly been one or two at a time, there are several larger deployments around the world. Original equipment manufacturers like Mercedes and Toyota have now entered the market. While bus manufacturers have been late to get into the market, there is increasing interest in their development groups. Motor Coach Industries and New Flyer have expressed interest in working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on the Lincoln Tunnel deployment to retrofit existing buses with automated technology. With the procurement release in June 2018, demonstration of five buses is planned toward the end of 2018 to demonstrate cooperative adaptive cruise control automated merging, and precision docking.
The vehicles being deployed come in several sizes with most interest in 10- to 15-passenger shuttles due to their flexibility and ability to adapt to various deployment scenarios. 2GetThere, EasyMile, and Navya have all deployed around 100 vehicles each. Below are some of the vehicles being deployed.
The current state of automation has allowed the following application areas:
• Low-speed, multi-passenger vehicles in mixed environments with pedestrians and other vehicles.
• Established routes or separated facilities.
• Operationally at Heathrow Airport, Las Vegas, Dubai, and University of Michigan.
• Use cases and services:
– First/last mile service around a hub.
– Circulation for campuses, residential developments, and central business districts.
• Current/planned automated vehicle shuttle projects.
• Other pending projects:
– Airports (APM replacement, access to airport landside services).
– Treasure Island (San Francisco County Transportation Authority).
– Southwest Business Improvement District: District of Columbia Department of Transportation.
Many other vehicle types are being automated for transportation use. Michigan is testing an automated lane stripper to remove the risk to the driver from frequent rear-end collisions. Mercedes has demonstrated automated snow plows in Frankfurt, Germany. United Rentals is automating construction equipment for safer work zone applications.
In addition to passenger shuttles, airports can use automated vehicles in several applications. One significant application will be the automation of ground support equipment. Much of this equipment performs routine tasks between specific locations in the air field. One major manufacturer of GSEs, TLD, is actively deploying automation on their vehicles, equipped with automated sensors as shown in the figure below. TLD has worked with EasyMile to demonstrate automated operation of these vehicles, and also applying the technology to cargo loaders.
Automated vehicles are a rapidly expanding industry with applications for public transit, as well as improved transportation operations for several applications. The first operational deployments are fixed-route first/last mile deployments, but there is increasing interest to provide on-demand services. The operation on dedicated facilities and limited access roadways is close at hand and will raise the attention of automation. Connectivity will enhance the capabilities of automated vehicles and fill in the holes that sensors alone cannot meet. While fully automated on-demand to anywhere service is many years away there are several application areas that will be served by today’s automated vehicles.
Robert James is Chief Engineer Emerging Mobility for HNTB Corp.