The Future of Work Zones and Automated Vehicles

Today I have asked Ross Sheckler of iCone Products to discuss his thoughts about the future interaction of automated and autonomous vehicles and work zones.

rossWZITS: Ross, there is a lot of discussion lately about automated and autonomous vehicles and how they will negotiate work zones and other temporary changes to the road geometry. What are you most concerned about with this technology?

RS: I think a there is a lot to learn about the road if you can step into another person’s shoes and view it from their perspective. The general public has used the commercial navigation systems and has come to expect that the road they’re looking for is on the digital map. More technical users generally recognize that the precision of most digital maps needs to be increased in order to navigate a car down a particular lane. There is a lot of focus on increasing both the accuracy and precision of these digital maps.

WZITS: Automation, they say, will greatly reduce crashes and improve safety on our roadways. Are there any positives for the work zone and incident management worlds?

RS: I think that automated cars that share a network of information with other cars can be a very positive thing for both work zones and evacuations. On some of our jobs we work hard to get ten or fifteen percent of the drivers to choose a different route because it improves everyone’s mobility and safety. The problem is that people tend to resist the unknown of a different route, this is particularly true for commercial truck drivers. You never know if you are going to get stuck some place you don’t want to be. The magical thing about automation, even just good navigation devices, is that people have come to trust them implicitly.

Imagine a hurricane evacuation scenario where a city like Miami is being evacuated. The state of Florida has specific evacuation routes all planned out but I doubt many of the residents know the route from their home let alone the route from some other part of the city. Navigation devices should have all of these routes coded in and be able to navigate you from wherever you are to safety. If those same devices could use real-time closure data the vehicles on a route that has been blocked by construction or an accident could be redistributed to updated evacuation routes based on their precise location.

The same should be true for blockages or slow-downs based on work zones. The catch is there needs to be a lot more data than we currently have.

WZITS: Automation is a catch phrase that includes a wide variety of technologies. Would you like to venture a guess as to the ones that will be used by the vast majority of car companies?

RS: I would like to think that cruise controls for traffic jams and smarter dynamic routing systems will be the first automation that will be widely adopted.

Taking the stress and risk out of stop-and-go traffic is going to be a big help for safety and mobility.

Having more information on activities such as construction and flagging will support smarter routing algorithms. I would like to think that our cars will direct us away from workers and backups in a way that gives us confidence that we are taking the best route.

WZITS: How will that impact the future of the roadway safety infrastructure industry?

RS: I think we can get to a world where as workers arrive to set up a work zone, no matter how small, their presence is noted in the national databases and cars automatically take other routes if they can. If we can get twenty or thirty percent of vehicles to divert around places where workers are present I would be willing to bet we will prevent a disproportionate number of accidents both to workers and travelers.

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