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Las Vegas and Others Prepare for AV Future with Road Rules

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada participated in a pilot project by INRIX to test-drive its new Road Rules platform, joining six other public entities across the country.

An increasing number of cities in the U.S. have embraced a new technology platform that allows them to digitize their streetscapes in preparation for the arrival of autonomous cars.

One of those cities is Las Vegas. In fact, transportation officials in the Las Vegas metro area welcomed a pilot project in 2018 from INRIX, maker of the technology platform known as Road Rules, which enabled the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) to digitally log street features like speed limits, crosswalks, and more into the platform. This is all information that may eventually be invaluable in a digitized format when it comes to deploying autonomous vehicles and related technologies. 

“We were putting in information that we were aware of,” said Theresa Gaisser, Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation manager of engineering at RTC of Southern Nevada. “So, ‘is there a mid-block crosswalk with pedestrian signs? Where are the speed limits posted, and what are those speed limits?’

She added, “And maybe there’s a tree branch blocking that speed limit sign and maybe that autonomous vehicle, using all of its sensor technology, may not be able to actually see it. However, as soon as they turn onto that road, they get that level of information if they’re using the INRIX platform, because we’ve already coded it in for that street.”

The RTC was involved with coding in two corridors during the project’s phase one. One of them was the route operated by the demonstration autonomous shuttle in downtown Las Vegas. Another area included a route around the Las Vegas Convention Center, just in time for the city's annual Consumer Electronics Show, which features a range of new transportation technology.  

“There were so many opportunities for these connected vehicles and AVs to be able to do demonstrations along these corridors, either in the downtown or by the convention center, utilizing the input that we had provided in the AV Road Rules platform,” said Gaisser.

In addition to Las Vegas, the pilot that launched at the end of 2018 included several U.S. cities and transportation authorities, spanning a range of jurisdiction sizes and geographic locations. Other participants included Austin, Texas; Boston; Cambridge, Mass.; Detroit; Portland, Maine; and Miami-Dade County, Fla.

The INRIX platform also establishes a template for cities to digitally map street and highway features like signage, crosswalks, loading zones and other features. The platform allows for this data to be used by autonomous vehicle technology developers as well as others in the transporation space, such as navigational apps like Waze.

“What we built was a tool for cities to build their own database of the rules that apply to the roadway. So things like crosswalks, and turn restrictions and stopping requirements,” said Avery Ash, head of Autonomous Mobility at INRIX.

The idea of having a common open platform to share transportation-related data among stakeholders is taking shape in other forms as well. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation released its Mobility Data Specifications (MDS) last year which sets up a common system for various mobility providers like app-enabled e-scooters and bikes to share mobility data with the city.

MDS differs from Road Rules, namely in that it sets up a framework for data to come into the public agency, while Road Rules operates in the other direction — forming a mechanism for the public transportation agency to share data with private mobility providers. Ash said the difference between the two is that MDS focuses on how to take new mobility solutions and get info about them, while Road Rules aims to help the local government preserve the traditional role of road authorities in the face of this new tech. 

That last bit is accomplished by enabling them to communicate rules of public way directly to automated vehicles and other modern transportation technology. 

Officials at the RTC in Nevada plan to continue to fine-tune its two Road Rules corridors, now that INRIX has rolled out its latest version of the platform. And whether the tool is used by self-driving vehicles or others, the project is putting data to work.

“Is this a data-management asset tool? Is this a regional planning database that all agencies in the southern Nevada region can participate in?” Gaisser said of the possibilities for using the data gathered in Road Rules. “What are some of these commonalities? And how do we really harness the power of all of the agencies in southern Nevada to maximize our use of — maybe this platform, maybe another platform — but to start thinking about the ability to digitalize our inventory and our assets in a larger and broader way that we can really enhance the value of what we’re all collectively providing.” 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.