Traffic congestion isn’t getting worse only in the United States: it’s a problem all over the world, and records continue to be broken for congestion on the road.
When it comes to fixing this congestion, simply adding autonomous cars won’t do it, because traffic jams with autonomous cars are still traffic jams. We believe the best way to approach this problem is making sure connected vehicles can manage traffic levels on the road along with vehicle to infrastructure communication to use existing road networks more efficiently.
To conquer this challenge, the Siemens Intelligent Traffic Systems (ITS) division is working on this vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) communication, and I spoke with the CEO of Siemens North American ITS division, Marcus Welz, to learn more. Marcus has worked for Siemens’ ITS division for more than a decade, and he’s worked with customers all over the world in global project management, global sales and product management roles. Back in 2007, Marcus spent time in Dubai helping the city implement an advanced traffic management system, which is still one of the world’s best systems.
Marcus and I started our conversation by talking about how he and the Siemens ITS division see transportation’s future and challenges with that future. We also discussed how Siemens’ history with innovating traffic management systems will work as connected autonomous cars hit the road.
The “road networks” of the future will be built upon today’s asphalt roads, and a melding of hardware made of asphalt, cars, buses and bikes with computer networks and data. Whenever mechanical hardware is melded with software, programming tasks can get more complex, especially when the safety of the individuals is at stake.
Here’s where the experience Siemens has in traffic management over the past 100 years should be an advantage in bringing about our transportation future. In August of 1914, when Siemens installed that first traffic light, there was hope that all drivers would quickly learn to stop at the right time, even though cars and horses shared the roads in a mixed environment. What Siemens has learned on the streets to control traffic in the 100+ years since should certainly be an advantage as we move toward a mixed environment of human and autonomously driven cars, buses and trains.
In this article, Marcus and I discuss the different ways vehicle to infrastructure communication could keep drivers in autonomous cars and in human-driven cares safe.
ED BERNARDON: Another thing you touched on earlier was vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. Certainly this can help with the deployment of autonomous cars, but it can even make human-driven cars safer and more efficient.
Autonomous cars companies, however, seem to be reluctant to some extent to utilize this technology in part because they can’t rely on cities to deploy them, and maybe some even think they can be successful without it. On the other side you have the cities and states that are reluctant to spend money on connected vehicle infrastructure before vehicles are ready for it. So you have a little bit of a chicken and egg kind of problem.
How do you think you can overcome this dilemma?
MARCUS WELZ: Yes, that’s an interesting one. I think connected vehicle technology, which is ultimately the technology which enables the cars or other road users, such as pedestrians, public transport, and even cyclists, to talk to the infrastructure, such as traffic signals, streetlights, or just road sections—this will be a game changer for the way traffic management has been laid out for various reasons. One reason is obviously safety. Connected vehicle technology is mainly a safety system.
The U.S. DOT [Department of Transportation] reports that 80 percent of unimpaired vehicle accidents can be prevented based on a long study which has been undertaken on the federal level, which is a strong use case for this type of technology in terms of safety. And this is actually pretty simple by giving road users a warning for an impending red light violation or if they’re taken a curve with too high speed. So there is this strong safety aspect, and I would argue that this safety aspect is a strong use case independent of whether there is a human driver or a robot driving the vehicle.
However, you could definitely argue that a robot or self-driving vehicle should be smart enough not to, let’s say, approach a traffic signal while it is red or not take the curve too fast. In order to know when the signal may switch, in order to have a better, more comfortable, or maybe a faster trip with avoiding congestion and delays—this is a strong use case for a self-driving vehicle. Maybe even more than just getting additional information on where the traffic signal is or whether the pedestrian is stepping into the intended path.
Assuming that the technology which is in the self-driving vehicle is already good enough to manage safety, there is a strong value for a self-driving vehicle if it knows the current traffic situation and how to navigate through that. One may be, a school is letting out and it would make sense to maybe to take the parallel street to go to the highway rather than approaching the high school which is just letting out.
Maybe just to add on that, a very strong use case for autonomous driving is also self-driving public transport. Being, let’s say, a company that is developing and producing connected vehicle technology. I would argue that having a self-driving vehicle without connected vehicle technology is like flying an airplane without a radar. It may work, but it may not be as safe as it can be. . But if the city is operating those fleets, which in the public transport environment may be the case, so not talking about the privately-owned self-driving vehicle or the self-driving taxi, I think every public transit agency would absolutely make sure that the highest level of safety is guaranteed.
Even if the connected vehicle technology is only perceived as a redundancy for whatever is in the vehicle, but every life which can be saved through that technology is worthwhile. This is why I believe that, especially in public transport, those types of benefits are so strong in all that is implemented.
In your question related to how to free up budgets and how to free up money, especially in cities, in order to invest in that—there is a report from the U.S. DOT saying that an intersection that is equipped with connected vehicle technology could save more than 80 percent of the costs of the lifetime of the intersection over 10 years.
If we sum up the investments which are required in an intersection thinking about the traffic lights, traffic controllers, all the detection, and also some type of maintenance or repair if any accident should happen—whenever there is connected technology involved, the majority of these costs during the lifecycle can be avoided.
The reason for this is very simple. First, we avoid accidents, which is a big part of an average cost item of operating an intersection. And secondly, and this is also the interesting piece, one of the big challenges of the road traffic industry is we always need to detect the cars.
We are spending a lot of money for intelligent traffic system in having detection in place—loop detection, video detection, radar detection, LIDAR detection—no matter which technology is used; but ultimately with connected vehicle technologies the cars will tell us where they are. So in order to optimize signal-facing timing, in order to optimize traffic management, we can’t actually substitute the traditional way of detecting the cars by having the cars directly talking to the infrastructure.
So there are two parts—there is an avoidance of costs over a lifetime of an intersection whenever connected vehicle technology is installed, and it also substitutes traditional detection which is also a big cost element for every intersection.
And with that we will have—taking the city budget as fixed—the opportunity to shift those budgets from a traditional technology to a more innovative technology, which besides all the safety aspects, can also realize those number of other use cases related for comfort of driving and intelligence in traffic and transportation management.
This concludes part three of my conversation with Marcus. In part four, we talk about how designers and engineers will have to prepare for vehicle to infrastructure communication and the future of car ownership.
About the author
Edward Bernardon is vice president of strategic automotive initiatives for the Specialized Engineering Software business segment of Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Industry Automation Division. Bernardon joined the company when Siemens acquired Vistagy, Inc. in December, 2011. During his 17 year tenure with Vistagy, Bernardon assumed the roles of vice president of sales, and later business development for all specialized engineering software products. Prior to Vistagy, Bernardon directed the Automation and Design Technology Group at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, formerly the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed new manufacturing processes, automated equipment and complementary design software tools. Bernardon received an engineering degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, and later received an M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Butler University. He also holds numerous patents in the area of automated manufacturing systems, robotics and laser technologies.