Driverless Cars, Delivery Drones May Ease Traffic Gridlock

A recent event in downtown Miami detailed plans for obliterating traffic, launching flying taxis, rolling out self-driving vehicles, improving public transit and building cities without cars.

by Linda Robertson, Miami Herald / November 27, 2019
Voyage engineers Alan Mond and Trung-Dung Vu Voyage

(TNS) — Can anyone envision a future without gridlock?

Yes, and many of those optimistic, innovative people gathered in downtown Miami on Thursday to share their plans for obliterating traffic, launching flying taxis, rolling out self-driving vehicles, improving public transit and building cities where it will not be necessary to own a car.

While none of the 735 transportation technology leaders at the seventh annual Florida Automated Vehicles Summit described a world that will resemble “Blade Runner” or “The Jetsons,” they do see a mobility revolution coming, although not as fast as predicted.

“We’re not setting any hard timelines,” said Miriam Chaum, Uber’s head of public policy for self-driving cars. “Autonomous vehicles present one of the greatest technological and engineering challenges of our time. Interacting with it, sharing the road with it, seeing it yield or stop for three seconds at the stop sign builds confidence and trust. We’re committed to doing this the right way.”

Safety, and proving to drivers accustomed to operating conventional cars that computer-operated cars are safe has proven to be the highest hurdle. Mass deployment of AVs did not happen in 2019 and won’t happen in 2020.

“Progress will be incremental,” said Reggie McKnight, head of state public policy for WAYMO, a self-driving tech development company that is a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. “We’ve been testing methodically for 10 years over 10 million miles on public roads and we’ve learned a lot of lessons. Safety has to be our prime focus.”

Florida, host to a half dozen companies testing their vehicles, will continue to embrace pioneers of the industry, Gov. Ron DeSantis said in his opening remarks.

“I am committed to making Florida the number one state in the country for transportation technology,” DeSantis said.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican representing Pinellas County, reiterated his commitment to making Florida a prime petri dish for emerging tech on automated, connected, electric and shared vehicles.

“We’ve worked over the years to create policy that ensures that Florida is attractive to mobility companies who can safely deploy cutting-edge technologies,” Brandes said.

Among the companies doing business in Florida and giving demonstrations at the summit were Beep, Voyage, Lyft, Uber, JUMP, Lime, Starsky Robotics, Ford/Argo AI, Luminar, SPIN and Connected Wise.

Beep is expanding its Move Nona electric AV shuttle network in Lake Nona near Orlando. The shuttles move at 12 mph around the community, helping to cut traffic and the need for parking lots and garages.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is renovating its 30-year-old, 2.5-mile, never-finished Skyway — which sounds similar to Miami’s Metrorail and Metromover system — into the Ultimate Urban Circulator with autonomous cars that can move from the elevated track to the roadway over a 10-mile network connecting neighborhoods to downtown.

“The challenge is that AV and AI [artificial intelligence] is complicated to implement in urban environments,” said Bernard Schmidt of the authority’s AV division. “There is human bias in programming the computers. If I only provide a picture of a German shepherd, the vehicle won’t run over the German shepherd but it will run over the chihuahua.”

Uber Elevate will soon be testing its Vertical Takeoff and Landing vehicles in Los Angeles and Dallas. But one of its current innovations is earning praise: A journey-planning app that incorporates public transit and other transportation options.

“On one trip you can plan how to use a ride share option at the start, a public transit option in the middle and a scooter option at the end,” said Uber spokesman Javier Correoso.

Mobility means freedom. West Palm Beach-based WGI displayed a rendering of a “mobility hub” living space, a modular multi-story building where your packages or groceries can be delivered by drone to your balcony, where you and your fellow tenants can share a fleet of electric cars and e-bikes on a roadway with the edge lane designed for pedestrians, strollers, cyclists, a dedicated lane for autonomous buses or trolleys and an outer lane for faster through traffic utilizing synchronized lights.

“We’re solving our commercial-corridors-safety-and-traffic problem and our lack-of-affordable-housing problem with these hubs,” said Lisa Nisenson, vice president of new mobility and connected communities. “People, especially young people, want life without a car or a second car. Someday there will be 18 different ways to get around.”

Smart infrastructure and smart city planning is the key to curing the misery of the long commute.

“The way our roads were created — they are still dumb,” said WGI President Greg Sauter. “We’ll eventually have vehicles that can talk to each other, to pedestrians and to intersections so we can control traffic throughout the entire city instead of one corner at a time.

“It’s about preserving the freedom of the car that is getting eaten away by traffic and parking hassles.”

Urban SDK is a software development company that wants to provide curated data sources for cities, counties and government transportation departments that currently waste time and money on the laborious planning process that keeps them behind the tech curve.

“We streamline the information, visualize it through automated analytics and modeling and help elected officials make more efficient, agile and intelligent policy decisions,” Urbans SDK’s Drew Messer said while standing by a computerized real-time “live congestion” map displaying Miami’s rush hour hotspots, part of the company’s 300 million miles of indexed roads.

For those who still love to drive and drive fast, there will be a place where you can indulge your old-fashioned, polluting passion in the future, maybe during vacation.

“I may be investing in car ranches,” said Robert Grant, vice president of government affairs for Cruise. “Come on out and drive.”

©2019 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. 

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