AutonomousConnected VehicleExperts Say!Interviews

Texas A&M Transportation Institute on ‘Autonomous Driving and Connected Transportation’

“Unfortunately, most of the prototypes are designed to operate only in pre-defined locations and under certain conditions. A truly “driverless” car that is capable of operating on public road, I believe, is at least 10- to 15 years away if not more.”

                                                                       Mohammad Poorsartep,  Texas A&M Transportation Research Institute

Autonomous vehicles are not the stuff of science fiction anymore. The technology has existed for years and recent research has elevated the field from experiment to near-commercial readiness. In a quest of solidifying their positions in the automotive and transportation niche, the global automakers are trying their luck with autonomous driving. Not just them, but tech-titans like Google, Intel along with regulatory bodies and academic institutions are also working day & nights to make self-driving vehicles a reality. Recently, Daimler revealed the concept of their ‘Future Truck 2025’ which they claim to be self-driving and self-occupied. Autonomous vehicles could change the way we move around cities and are already being tested on the roads of California when Audi became the first car OEM to get their permit to test self-driving cars on the roads of California.

Mohammad Poorsartep
Mohammad Poorsartep

A lot of US academic and R&D institutions are being funded by US DOT to test the potantial of conencted and automated driving technologies and their impact on  both the passenger and commercial transportation. With a hope to uncover some facts about thiese initiatives, Simmi Sinha of Telematics Wire interacted with Mohammad Poorsartep, Connected Transportation Project Manager at Texas A&M Transportation Research Institute. In his current position, he is leading TTI’s activities further into the emerging area of automated and autonomous vehicles technology. He has an extensive background in working with construction, telecommunications, automotive, and defense industries. Prior to his current position, he spent more than four years at University of Michigan as a project manager where he led the activities of the Connected Vehicle Proving Center (CVPC) in conducting research projects sponsored by automotive manufacturers and suppliers, Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, and other entities.

Let’s get to know more about autonomous driving from an expert….

Q. Give us a brief overview of The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Connected Transportation Initiative

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) shares an industry vision where no vehicles collide and users can interact with automated and connected transportation to transform how people live, work and interact with their environment. To achieve this vision, research, development and testing are needed on how vehicles, users and transportation infrastructure all work together. While automated vehicles are emerging and connected vehicle research is progressing, TTI believes the biggest gains to safety and mobility will occur at the nexus of these areas and this is where the Connected Transportation Initiative is focused on.

Q. In your views, how automated vehicle technology could affect commercial vehicle operations?

The commercial vehicle space is distinctly different that passenger vehicle market. For a commercial vehicle operator the decision to purchase a vehicle is largely based on financials. If the numbers add up, the vehicle or fleet operator will proceed with purchasing the vehicle. This is what we need to consider first, when talking about automation in the commercial vehicle space. There needs to be a strong return on investment (ROI) for every dollar added to the cost of a truck, due to these automated features, for fleet managers or other responsible individuals to even consider such technology.

That said, many of the truck automation applications that have been researched, demonstrated, or fielded, have shown reasonable ROI either in terms of decreased fuel consumption and/or improved safety that leads to lower insurance cost and other beneficial consequences.

However, there are many operational issues that will emerge as the technology move upward in its maturity curve. There is no clear cut answer on how these technologies will impact commercial vehicle operation since there are many unknowns until the technology is fielded and operated by actual customers. In case of platooning application where trucks drive in a tight formation with short gaps between them, it became apparent that dirt and pebbles on the road can almost completely block the radiator grill of the following truck and prevent the air from reaching the radiator. Or, another test showed that tight gaps in warmer climates could increase the fan cycles and result in diminishing fuel savings expected from the platooning application. There needs to be more pilot deployments to better understand how different automated applications impact commercial vehicle operations. These could range from truck down time due to added complexities, maintenance procedures, new technician trainings, drivers’ acceptance and other pertinent issues.

Q. Since the vehicles are experiencing technology budge, so how do you see the autonomous vehicles as an upcoming in-vehicle technology and what are the Impacts of automation on safety policies and regulations?

Automated features have been available in many vehicles for a long time. ABS for instance is a lower level of automation where it takes control of the vehicle, only seconds before an undesirable event takes place. For the past five years, however; the industry has been working hard to push these seconds, into minutes. Meaning, transferring more control functions to the vehicle to augment human driver capabilities, and eventually freeing up the driver from the driving task for increasingly extended periods of time. This is a trend that has major safety, mobility, and other transformative impetuses behind it, making automation a sure future in-vehicle technology.

Many states across the country are actively considering legislative and regulatory actions. Nevertheless, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also looking at this technology by conducting research to better understand it first. Historically, regulation has lagged behind the technology and this should not be seen negatively. Any wrong regulatory action could curtail years of advances in a technology and bring it to a halt. All and all, if the technology proves to be effective in providing safety benefits, that many believe it does, federal and state governments will embrace it through different means and mechanisms that they can employ.

Q. How various auto manufacturers are looking forward to the upcoming technologies such as camera-based technologies used in vehicle-lane keeping and lane-departure warning systems?

OEMs and their suppliers are actively pursuing advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) such as lane keeping assist (LKA), lane departure warning (LDW), forward collision warning (FCW), adaptive cruise control (ACC), or park assist — just to name a few, as these applications not only add to the safety of their vehicles, but also offer convenience to the driver. These safety and convenience features offered by vehicle manufacturers enable them differentiate their products from competitors and capture a large piece of the market. While you may see many of these advanced technologies are first offered on higher end vehicles, due to decreasing costs, you can now find many of the same features on a mid-level or even budget cars.

Q. Do you feel the need to strengthen or re-define country’s telecommunication infrastructure in order to fully realize the benefits of V2V/V2I technologies?

Industry has been working on vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) for a quite a while and has produced a significant body of knowledge that did not exist ten years ago. Like any other technology, telecommunication technology also goes through its pace and evolves over time as new technologies emerge. The same applies to V2V and V2I. In some cases the existing cellular network could support certain applications and in some cases new infrastructure is needed to support other applications. In the U.S. we are in a good starting position. However, there are still surmountable challenges that we need to collectively and intelligently tackle, like spectrum sharing.

Q. How popular are standards like DSRC/WAVE/VANET becoming in the autonomous vehicle paradigm? Do you see any technological hurdles in implementing these standards?

Currently the V2V/V2I and automated vehicle technology are moving in parallel with not much cross pollination taking place. However, these two disciplines are beginning to converge. The early applications of vehicle automation do not require V2V connectivity and the V2V research has not been focused on automated control of the vehicle, rather providing advisories, warnings, and alerts. Many in the automated vehicle space see the DSRC as an additional sensory input that could provide redundancy to the existing suite of sensors that they have. However, I personally believe to truly utilize the network level effect of automated vehicles and enabling “autonomy”, connectivity is a critical component.

Q. When might we see ‘autonomous/driverless vehicles’ becoming a reality? Is it too premature to think of a business model around it?

“Driverless” vehicles exist today. There are many prototypes not only in the U.S. but across the world that can demonstrate such capabilities. Unfortunately, these vehicles are designed to operate only in pre-defined locations and under certain conditions. A truly “driverless” car that is capable of operating on public road, I believe, is at least 10- to 15 years away if not more. However, we are going to see incremental improvements in vehicle automation in the very near future as OEMs start to introduce new applications to the market, such as traffic jam assist, highway automated pilot, and more.

Business model and technology go hand in hand. For example, to enable autonomous driving you need 3D digital maps. So map providers are currently thinking about their future business models on how to offer such service to car manufacturers, and OEMs are thinking about what’s the best way of acquiring these maps. This is a long way of saying that we should be thinking about business models today, because tomorrow may be too late.

Check out the latest edition of Smart Automotive magazine to read more about these technologies.

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