Safety First: Creating a World with Less Fender Benders

“Driverless vehicles, on paper anyway, make sense: Simply remove the possibility of fatigue or alcohol impairment in a driver, and you have just knocked 45.5 percent off the fatality rate in the U.S.—and that is merely the lowest-hanging fruit in a forest of human-factor hazards. But, we don’t tend to think on paper.”

This statement was pulled from a recent Car and Driver article by Tim Vanderbilt asking the basic but deeply important question, “How safe is safe enough?” 

Roughly 40,000 Americans die from car accidents each year with 95% of them being due to human error. That is equivalent to a Boeing 737 going down every day for one year, and is a vastly under-communicated national crisis.

However, for the first time in history, humans have designed artificial intelligence and automated driving technology to predict and prevent these accidents. Solving this crisis will not only fall on the shoulders of vehicle designers and engineers. Local policymakers, transit authorities and city administrators also have a crucial role to play. 

The State of Michigan, through state agencies like the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), is laser-focused on this issue. In recent years, MDOT has upgraded connectivity within its network of highways and corridors so that signals, signs and even pavement markings can communicate back to vehicles regarding potential operating risks.

This vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology will not only reduce accidents and save lives, but it will also improve congestion and help city planners collect valuable data that will be leveraged to design better city services and transportation offerings.

V2I technology installation can be used as a tool for economic development. Leveraging the best artificial intelligence software from some of the most dynamic new companies around the world can create compelling reasons for those dynamic companies to locate offices and create jobs near their installations.

An intersection in Detroit contains the entrance and exit to/from the General Motors Headquarters, the entrance to the Detroit-Windsor International Tunnel Crossing, the City of Detroit Administration building drop-off, a hotel motor lobby, a 4-lane thoroughfare in Randolph Street and one of the city’s most expansive 8-lane thoroughfares. With such a high volume of slowing and speeding cars and pedestrians – the area was ripe for new V2I technology.

So, MDOT, the City of Detroit and PlanetM (the mobility arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation) sought out the best artificial intelligence provider to help ease the intersection’s bottlenecks and risks. After much research, Derq, a Dubai-and-Detroit-based traffic safety tech startup, was chosen to launch two advanced software applications for connected vehicles to communicate with the surrounding infrastructure. Derq’s testing focused on predicting vehicle and pedestrian-related risks and proactively alerting fleets and equipped vehicles.

Derq received a PlanetM Pilot Grant in June 2018 to launch their technology in Detroit. PlanetM Mobility Grants provide aid to mobility startups and corporations to test, validate and prove out new technologies on Michigan roadways and air space, or at one of the state’s premier testing facilities.

Not all of the new technology that makes our roads safer should start on our roads. Any new V2I innovation must go through thousands of hours of rigorous testing in artificial environments to ensure there are no failures.

Michigan’s ecosystem is equipped to handle these earlier stages of testing through our world-class testing sites, which offer closed urban, suburban and high-speed environments that can be used in all weather conditions, and prepare any V2I solution for the harshest or most complicated conditions.

The evolution of mobility demands require collaboration between state, industry, community, advocacy and higher education leaders working together to make sure new mobility raises the quality of life for everyone.

Trevor Pawl is Group Vice Preisdent for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation .

Views expressed in the ITSDC2019 Annual Meeting Blog do not necessarily reflect the policy or opinion of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and should not be interpreted as official association statements.   

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