IRF continues to promote a cross-industry dialogue by inviting leading voices to share insights and confront viewpoints.
Dr. Paul Carlson, the Chief Technology Officer of Road Infrastructure Inc., was invited to comment on the possible impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for deployment scenarios of these technologies. Dr.Carlson will be one of the panellists at IRF’s flagship “Roads to Tomorrow” (R2T) conference held virtually this year on November 17-20.
“Prior to the pandemic, one of the hottest topics in our industry was the potential for automated vehicles to increase safety and mobility while decreasing congestion. At the peak of the pandemic’s impact, we experienced several new behaviours that could disrupt pre-COVID trends, including defining successful business cases for the automated vehicle industry.
Many people fortunate enough to maintain employment throughout the COVID-19 crisis worked from home. Those initial practices proved effective and led many companies to institute long-term and even permanent remote work policies. Assuming this trend continues, how will increased telework policies impact transit ridership and the need for pre-COVID levels of downtown office space?
People living and working in downtown locations will still need mobility. However, remote work, social distance practices, and increased sanitisation protocols have essentially eliminated or severely cut shared micro-mobility options (shared bicycles and scooters). In many cases, pedestrian and private bicycle use increased so much that streets were closed to vehicular traffic.
What does this mean for the future of automated vehicles and the roadway safety industry? These trends point to possible outcomes that might be considered “no-regret” opportunities. For starters, there appear to be at least two business cases for automated vehicles that remain robust - automated goods movement and privately-owned vehicles with automated driving features.
If automated goods movement is realised, and streets remain closed to vehicular traffic, new street designs might be needed to delineate automated goods movement from pedestrians and bicycles. The traditional cross-section of narrow sidewalks and wider paths for vehicles might give way to wider pedestrian usage areas and narrower “lanes” for automated goods movement.
A surge in privately-owned vehicles with automated features could lead to the public’s better understanding of the value of maintaining roadway infrastructure in a “good state of repair.” As people pay extra for the automated features in their SAE J3016 Level 2 and 3 vehicles, they will expect those features to be available and reliable.
We already know that one of the best ways to do this is to provide uniformity in pavement markings. In the US, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices recently made recommendations that would support automated vehicles while also increasing safety along many of the nation’s rural highways. Meanwhile, the European Commission has acknowledged that the continuously growing uptake of automated driver assistance systems rely on the quality and good detectability of road markings and has announced plans to draft a common set of specifications which could help those systems to operate more continuously and more reliably than under current circumstances.
In the months to come, it will be important for road stakeholders in the US, Europe and elsewhere to follow these trends and engage in the dialogue to be ready for whatever develops in the post-COVID era."