When cars talk: The future of Colorado’s I-70 Mountain Corridor
SUMMIT COUNTY — Interstate 70 will soon be a testing ground for new technology that will allow vehicles to “talk” to each other. The Colorado Department of Transportation’s Connected Vehicle Pilot Program, part of an initiative to use new technology to improve safety and traffic, will start coming together next June.
The program will equip more than 700 CDOT, first responder, ski shuttle and commercial vehicles on I-70 with Dedicated Short Range Communication devices that use radio waves to transmit information on road conditions, traffic and closures. The devices will also be installed on roadside infrastructure to collect data on vehicle speeds and incidents.
“A significant portion of what the future holds for us is the capacity for vehicles to talk to each other and be able to share data or information with driver,” CDOT communications director Amy Ford said. “This has been talked about for a while. The federal government is looking at (DSRC).”
The hope is to make trips across the corridor more efficient, improving traffic by informing drivers, and vehicles, about upcoming hazards.
“I am curious to see how big of an impact these projects can have on the corridor. I have no doubt they will help,” I-70 Coalition Director Margaret Bowes said. “Colorado is trying to be very cutting edge with this technology. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were at the forefront of it.”
CDOT plans to invest $10 million into the project during the next several years. While initial meetings around the pilot started this week, CDOT hopes to gain industry input by June and to install DSRC in selected vehicles throughout next year.
For the purposes of the pilot, vehicles installed with DSRC will function as data collectors, automatically sending information to CDOT that can be sent out to drivers along the corridor in a timely fashion. The project will stretch between C-470 in Denver and Edwards.
Ford said the I-70 mountain corridor was selected for the project due to the unique road conditions and variety of travel uses.
“It’s one of the most critical and yet challenged corridors we have in the state,” she added.
SMART AND MOBILE
To launch the program, CDOT will first determine how to best communicate road conditions to drivers. Ford said they were exploring using a mobile app or incorporating the data into other applications.
“It will be highly geolocated information that hits you right when you need it,” Ford said. “We would gather that information into a database, cleanse it and spit it back out.”
For example, a phone might notify a truck driver traveling downhill to slow down for an approaching curve in the road. Ford said they would also look at hands-free ways to share the information with drivers, such as having phones that read conditions out loud.
CDOT vehicles, such as snowplows, installed with friction sensors could send information on icy or snowpacked road conditions to this database. Sensors installed on highway infrastructure tracking traffic volume, travel speeds and accidents could also feed this data into the system for “very, very real-time” traffic updates.
A ‘JETSONS’ FUTURE
Eventually, the next step would be to transmit this information to autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles, or self-driven cars. In the future, cars would be able to communicate directly to each other, and be able to respond automatically to upcoming hazards.
“A lot of people are saying this is some ‘Jetsons’ future. But it’s happening today,” Ford said. “Whether the human is making the decision or the car makes that decision, those are the next pieces.”
The idea would be that if a car braked sharply, the cars following it would automatically brake as well, avoiding an accident. Peloton Technology is already implementing this with a system that allows trucks to drive in a “platoon,” following closely behind one another to increase fuel efficiency and create more space on the road.
While the truck driver still has some control over the vehicle, it will automatically brake in turn with the others in line.
“Vehicles can travel closer together, safer,” Bowes said. “Cars could drive four feet from each other.”
While there are few fully autonomous cars on the market, meaning that the car can drive, park and shift without assistance, several manufacturers are starting to implement semi-autonomous cars. While the driver still has control, the cars are capable of maintaining highway speeds, remaining in one lane and making parallel parking easy.
Colorado Automobile Dealers Association president Tim Jackson said he expected to see autonomous cars in the marketplace in the next three to five years.
“All the manufacturers are working toward autonomous cars,” he said. “Some are further along than others.”
Just in October, Tesla updated its cars remotely to be semi-autonomous, while Google started testing its self-driving cars as early as 2009. He said several other manufacturers have made commitments to have autonomous vehicles at a set point in time.
“They are on the way, they’ll be safe, efficient, they’ll be incredibly technology-oriented and it will change the way people think about driving and mobility,” Jackson said.