What new infrastructure is needed?

Digital-Though automated vehicles are equipped with technology that perceives the real world, self-driving cars still need access to a digital world of right-of-way geography, traffic laws, work zone locations, curb space allocations, and jurisdictional boundaries.  Private firms and non-profits are trying to address this problem through various roadway digitization efforts—for example, Inrix are trying to address this challenge with its AV Road Rules platform, and an open-source non-profit, Open Street Map, is trying to democratize the effort to find solutions.

Cellular- 5G cellular, where implemented, will have a much more profound impact on your daily life than just your phone data plan and the wifi at Starbucks.  This latest generation of cellular technology will allow low-latency communication for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) applications.  Before we ever come close to widespread robo-cars we should expect our cell phones to continue playing an important part in how we get around and communicate with other drivers.

Vehicles as Sensors- A deeper impact of improved communications and connected vehicle technology is that it leads to a reversal of the traditional understanding of how drivers, cars, and IOOs relate to one another.  Traditionally, the IOOs collected data about roadway conditions and sent that information to drivers—smart roads, dumb cars.  However, this relationship has already begun to change.  Through smartphones and vehicle telematics, cars have become advanced roadway sensors that are sending information back to third-parties who analyze the data and provide those insights to IOOs—smart cars, dumb roads.

Big Data & Artificial Intelligence - Big data isn’t just for social media and advertisers.  As we’ve shown above, transportation data is, today, yielding countless petabytes of rich data every twenty-four hours—the future will only accelerate this phenomenon.  What’s more, the data that’s valuable for transportation planners and operators isn’t just the data coming from your car or smartphone mapping app, countless other data sources are being used: social media, credit card receipts, US census, first responder reporting.  Wrangling all of this data to improve our roadway planning and operations is a difficult task but there are folks out there bringing it all together.

Digitizing - As we’ve already seen, digitizing the legal and regulatory world surrounding the roads is as important for CAVs as being able to perceive the roads themselves.  This need for digitization has fostered the growth of all sorts of new digitizing technologies.  The digitization of pavement conditions, curbspace allocations, and roadway furniture is a budding field of technological innovation. 

Companies such as Nexar and Roadbotics are developing low-cost methods (relative to traditional methods) to accurately detect and digitize the conditions of roads, sidewalks, signs, curbspace, and potholes.  They’re doing this primarily through combining dashcam video with artificial intelligence to identify and classify problems with the street environment.  This creates a data-rich and intuitive view for public works engineers to access for streamline services.

Maintenance - Though we’ve spoken about the future of infrastructure, for now, developers of self-driving vehicles, as of now, say just need the same things that drivers today need: They want good road striping, consistent signage, and fewer potholes.  With those things in place, they believe they can accomplish most of what they need to accomplish to deliver a safe, effective product.