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The positive evolution of connected transportation

Over the past decade, the USDOT’s Connected Vehicle Research Program has been on a long and winding road with several uncertainties along the way, including what it would produce, and sometimes whether or not it would even continue to exist. The good news, however, is that 2014 was a major positive turning point in what has been – and continues to be – an evolving story.

When we at the USDOT envisioned a connected vehicle environment back in the early 2000s, we thought that V2I capability would be deployed first. We worked with car companies and public agencies to plan for the simultaneous implementation of vehicle and infrastructure communications systems. Back then, the focus was solely on DSRC and it was viewed as the technology for supporting all the various transportation-related communications needs (in fact, one of my early managers even referred to it as ‘the Holy Grail’ for ITS).

However, when it became evident to the industry that the Feds were not planning to pick up the tab for the infrastructure piece, it caused turmoil, essentially leading to a pause on progress. And things got worse from there… by the mid-2000s the use of DSRC technology and future government investment was being questioned entirely.

Fortunately, in the late 2000s, new DOT leadership brought a renewed enthusiasm for DSRC and plans were back in motion. But, notably, our implementation strategy had changed. Instead of leading with V2I, we decided to move forward with a V2V implementation first. This required some bold and explicit steps: first, a 2013 regulatory decision milestone was set for V2V safety; and second, the Safety Pilot Model Deployment Program was established. These two actions restructured the entire ITS research program, while laying out a clear plan toward establishing the DSRC connected vehicle.

Furthermore, the connected vehicle was now no longer just about DSRC. Advances in wireless communications technologies opened the door to a more robust connected vehicle environment, along with applications that we would never have dreamed of originally.

Consequently, the next major DOT initiative is the Connected Vehicle Pilot Program. This looks at how the connected vehicle can address the broader set of issues with surface transportation, using a variety of communications media and data sources. It will be exciting to see how connected vehicle innovations roll out in these pilots, and through other initiatives. Many questions have yet to be answered. To what extent will DSRC be leveraged for more extensive purposes? How will DSRC along with other wireless communications come together as a holistic solution? To what extent will we see convergence with the automated vehicle to deliver the ultimate vehicle capability of what I like to call ‘connected automation’?

While the past 10 years haven’t been easy, we’ve made it to a very encouraging place – one that I believe holds great promise. And I look forward to exploring and talking further about advances with the connected vehicle as they unfold. The next 10 years will be very exciting, as we continue toward our connected future. 

Mike Schagrin is former program manager for the ITS Connected Vehicle Safety and Vehicle Automation research programs at the USDOT’s ITS Joint Program Office. Mike has now established Schagrin Consulting International, supporting clients in connected and automated vehicles.

mike@schagrin-consulting.com
Illustration: Ian Parratt, the-caricatureartist.co.uk

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