Rhythm Engineering Blog

Autonomous Vehicle Technology – The Future of Traffic Engineering is Happening Now

By Dr. Reggie Chandra, PE

Traffic engineering in the future will be intimately connected to how the cars of the future operate.  We are less than a decade away from seeing this microchip technology, which will equip vehicles to monitor what is happening all around them and act accordingly.

How Did We Get Here?

The Kurzweil Curve reveals the power of technology will keep growing exponentially, according to Ray Kurzweil. His prediction is that by 2050, you will be able to buy a device with the computational capacity of all mankind for the price of a nice refrigerator today.1 Kurzweil continues that within the past 60 years, life in the industrialized world has changed almost beyond recognition except for living memories from the first half of the 20th Century. This pattern will culminate in unimaginable technological progress in the 21st Century, leading to a singularity.1

Singularity is defined as an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly non-biological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today — the dawning of a new civilization that will enable us to transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity.2

Already examples exist of this foresight in the car of the future technology. The Wall Street Journal reports that self-driving cars, or the autonomous vehicle, are on the horizon. Widespread embrace of self-driving vehicles could eliminate 90% of all auto accidents in the U.S., prevent up to $190 billion in damages and health-costs annually and save thousands of lives, according to a new report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co, as reported by WSJ. The report, compiled after interviews with dozens of industry officials, also predicts mass adoption of auto-piloted vehicles beginning in about 15 years and initial implementations early next decade.3

According to Reuters, fully autonomous vehicles could make up nearly 10% of global vehicle sales, or about 12 million cars a year, by 2035. The Boston Consulting Group added manufacturers and suppliers are rapidly rolling out new hardware designed to speed adaptation of self-driving systems. Carmakers Mercedes-Benz®, Audi® and BMW® demonstrated vehicles with various autonomous capabilities to show attendees at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Daimler’s chief executive, Dieter Zetsche, and Audi’s chief technology officer, Ulrich Hackenberg, said they expect various autonomous systems to be rolled out in stages over the next five to 10 years.4

Emerging Technologies

Before vehicles begin to drive people around, there are other technologies that are already on the market to help make motorists’ lives easier.

  1. The Waze app:“Helps motorists navigate traffic better. Drivers enter their destination and the app displays several route options, enabling drivers to avoid accidents, traffic jams and roads affected by weather. It will also update the driver on changes in traffic.”6
  2. Traffic Light Assist: “Promises to help motorists make every green light. Using both live and predictive data beamed into the vehicle’s navigation unit via onboard Wi-Fi, local data sources provide information about traffic light patterns. The in-car system uses that data and the motion of the car to predict exactly how long it will be until the green light turns red.  Audi® has been testing this system in Europe as well as in Las Vegas, NV.”7
  3. Mobileye: “Reduces the risks of traffic accidents, thus saving lives. The EyeQ® chip (now in its 3rd generation) performs detailed interpretations of the visual field in order to anticipate possible collisions with other licensed vehicles, pedestrians, animals, debris and other obstacles. The product also detects roadway lanes, road boundaries, and barriers, as well as reads traffic signs and traffic lights. This technology is currently being tested with several carmakers.”8
  4. Cruise System: “Available for installation on your 2012 or newer Audi A4 or S4, although there is a wait list now. The technology, called RP-1, uses a combination of sensors, radar, and cameras to drive the vehicle. Using advanced computer vision and obstacle detection, the RP-1 keeps the car in its lane and a safe distance from vehicles in front of it.”9

The future looks like it is moving toward self-driving vehicle technology through advanced microchip technology. But how does it work?

Autonomous Vehicle Technology

The Google driverless car, now called Waymo, uses an array of detection technologies, including sonar devices, stereo cameras, lasers, and radar, according to an article in Extreme Tech. The light detection ranging (LIDAR) system is at the heart of object detection, according to Google engineers. It’s highly accurate up to a range of 100 meters, and although there is several detection technologies on the car that work at greater distances, they do not have the kind of accuracy that LIDAR can provide. The article states the LIDAR system can rotate 360-degrees and take up to 1.3 million readings per second, making it the most versatile sensor on the car. Mounting it on top of the car ensures its view isn’t obstructed.10

Several carmakers have incorporated various technologies into a functioning autonomous vehicle. In an article titled “The Six Things I Learned From Riding in a Google Self-Driving Car” published in The Oatmeal, the author declares that human beings are terrible drivers with a plentitude of human errors; therefore self-driving cars can eliminate these errors. The Google car is programmed to act like “nervous student driver,” so it takes things slow and deliberate. The writer also notes that the technology, while still a work in progress, is wanted/needed “like…yesterday.”11

Volvo® has announced plans to test 100 self-driving vehicles on city streets by 2017. The development team outlined the “one-of-a-kind” pilot scheme that will see “ordinary people” in self-driving cars in an uncontrolled urban environment.12

Has this technology been tried out in a real world setting? Yes. The University of Michigan has designed a Safety Pilot Model Deployment, which is a scaled-down version of a future in which all vehicles will be connected. The model deployment experiment will discover how well connected vehicle safety technologies and systems work in a real-life environment with real drivers and vehicles. It will test performance, usability, and collect data to better understand the safety benefit of a larger scale deployment.13

According to an article in The MIT Technology Review, some of the results from the University of Michigan study are in. “After studying communication records for those vehicles, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) researchers concluded that the technology could prevent more than half a million accidents and more than a thousand fatalities in the United States every year. The technology stands to revolutionize the way we drive,” says John Maddox, a program director at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.14

Shortly after the Ann Arbor trial ended, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that it would start drafting rules that could eventually mandate the use of car-to-car communication in new cars, according to the article in The Review. “More than five million crashes occur on U.S. roads alone every year, and more than 30,000 of those are fatal. The prospect of preventing many such accidents will provide significant impetus for networking technology.”14

What’s Next?

This journey began with the rapid growth in microchip technology and the how it will initially impact traffic engineering. Starting with driver-assistance technology currently on the market, to vehicle technology advancements, and finally a real-world scenario that brings of all these functions together, a world with self-driving cars is not that far away. However, as this microchip technology continues to advance, traffic signal technology lags far behind. What can be done to catch the industry up? That is exactly what Rhythm Engineering is working on.

 


 

About the Author

Dr. Reggie Chandra, PE, PTOE spent a large portion of his career as a public traffic engineer focused on optimizing and synchronizing signals. He grew frustrated with the tools available for him to perform his job. Dr. Chandra knew the traffic signal technology had fallen decades behind, creating crowded and unsafe roadways, smog, and wasted time and fuel. He also knew traffic engineers alone didn’t have all the answers.

In 2005, Dr. Chandra set out to find a solution. In February of 2008, his team flipped the switch on an artificially intelligent, digital, adaptive traffic signal system that could optimize signals to automatically adapt to traffic in real time.

Since its launch, In|Sync has become the most widely adopted adaptive traffic control systems in the United States. More U.S. traffic agencies select In|Sync than any other adaptive traffic control system, making it the fastest growing such system in U.S. history. As of January 2015, In|Sync is the solution of choice for more than 1500 intersections in 29 states. Independent studies prove that In|Sync reduces stops by up to 90%, cuts fuel consumption and emissions up to 30%, and even reduces accidents by up to 30%. Dr. Chandra currently serves as the Founder, President and CEO of Rhythm Engineering, LLC. The company has ranked twice on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S.

Born and raised in India, Dr. Chandra came to the United States with his wife Jenny at the age of 27 to pursue the American dream. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, a master’s degree in traffic engineering (Univ. of Florida) and a Ph.D. in organizational leadership (Regent University).

In 2012, Dr. Chandra released his first book, Shades of Green: Why Traffic Signals Frustrate You and What You Can Do to Fix Them. This book explains how traffic signals work and how we can fix the problem of unsynchronized traffic signals.

Dr. Chandra enjoys international travel with his friends and family, and finding ways to give back to society such as making dreams come true for adults facing life-threatening illness via The Dream Foundation, and also supports the Community Services League.

Citations

  1. Kurzweil, Ray (2001, March, 7) The Law of Accelerating Returns http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns
  2. Kurzweil, Ray (2006) Viking Press, New York, NY – http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns
  3. Ramsey, Mike (2015) published in The Wall Street Journal, Self Driving Cars Could Cut Down on Accidents, Study Says http://www.wsj.com/articles/self-driving-cars-could-cut-down-on-accidents-study-says-1425567905?KEYWORDS=self-driving+cars
  4. Reuters, (2015) published in Fortune, 12 million driverless cars to be on the road by 2035, study says http://fortune.com/2015/01/08/12-million-driverless-cars-to-be-on-the-road-by-2035-study-says/
  5. https://www.waze.com
  6. http://www.autoblog.com/2014/01/09/audi-traffic-light-assist-ces-2014/
  7. http://www.mobileye.com/
  8. http://www.getcruise.com
  9. Whitwam, Ryan (2014) published in Extreme Tech, How Google’s self-driving cars detect and avoid obstacles http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/189486-how-googles-self-driving-cars-detect-and-avoid-obstacles
  10. Inman, Matthew, (2015) published in The Oatmeal, 6 things I learned from driving in a Google Self-driving Car http://theoatmeal.com/blog/google_self_driving_car
  11. Bryant, Ross (2015) published in dezeen magazine, Volvo announced “one–of-a-kind” public tests for self-driving cars http://www.dezeen.com/2015/02/24/volvo-public-testing-self-driving-cars-2017-gothenburg/
  12. http://safetypilot.umtri.umich.edu
  13. Knight, Will (2015) published in Technology Review, Car-to-Car Communication: A simple wireless technology promises to make driving much safer. http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/534981/car-to-car-communication/
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