Yesterday, one of our burning questions was answered: Are those automatic cars really avoiding things on their own?
Well it turns out that at least one is – as was proven today (unintentionally) by ITS America CEO Scott Belcher. Scott walked across the 11th Ave. test track unaware that a live demonstration was going on. A second later an autonomous SSTI test vehicle came zipping around some barrels. Some excitement ensued as the vehicle detected him and automatically stopped. Security started yelling (until he realized it was his boss in the track). So Scott cheats death (and so do a few engineers, I’d imagine) and the SSTI crew gets a good story to tell.
Unfortunately, even despite the new votes of confidence, no one was willing to let me hop in the back seat of one of those fancy cars with a few drinks and tour Manhattan with no driver. I can see it now: “Yes, officer, I have been drinking, but the car hasn’t, and it’s the one that was driving.”
Someone’s epiphany that cooperation and open standards are far better for everyone is beginning to bear fruit. We’re starting to see instances of the best technology being improved by one agency and then released into the wild for others to use. One of the many examples of this philosophy here is New York City’s award winning new Applied Solid-state Traffic Controller (ASTC). This is the box that physically controls the lights, grabs sensor data, etc.
Monday saw ITSA’s Chairman of the Board Randell Iwasaki blush as he handed award after award to various projects involving Caltrans, his institutional home, at the Best of ITS Awards ceremony. Caltrans deserves a lot of credit. They’ve been busy testing, deploying and partnering on projects covering everything from using GPS enabled cell phones to monitor traffic, to VII implementations, and my personal favorite–adaptive signal controls.
Then there was Sensys Networks snagging an award for a deployment of their wireless vehicle detection technology with a grant from (you guessed it) Caltrans. I believe the line was “installs in 10 minutes, transmits for up to 10 years.” Pretty impressive stuff–battery powered, as accurate as loop detectors, and not affected by weather. Caltrans is deploying 5,106 of them in 800 locations.
One of the most brilliant systems is a bit of simple elegance rarely seen in any infrastructure project. Instead of trying to change drivers’ behavior by charging them more to drive on the road they want, Caltrans District 4 deployed variable message signs on major routes around the San Francisco area that informed drivers of how current travel times on the road compared against the real time travel times of transit options. This tiny bit of information lead to a substantial increase in transit ridership. It seems almost silly in hindsight, but if a superior transit option exists and drivers know about it, they often will choose transit of their own free will. In this case they didn’t have to spend a single dollar on roads or transit, just a way to deliver compelling information to their target market.
On Sunday, the 2008 ITS World Congress kicked-off its biggest event ever in NYC. Guests were treated to a top-notch opening ceremony that miraculously managed to fit in half a dozen speakers and artistic performances ranging from hip hop to opera, violins, ballet and Broadway favorites.
New York City has closed down and renamed 11th Ave. in front of the convention center (name is now ITS World Congress Blvd.) for demonstrations of exotic technologies such as automatic collision avoidance and driverless autonomous vehicles.