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Integrating Autonomous Vehicles

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Jan. 8, 2021—You’re driving yourself to work one morning and you get stopped at a red light. You take in your surroundings, and it appears there is no one driving the car that’s stopped in the next lane. You rub your eyes and do a double-take, and by this point, the light has turned green. Just as the car behind you begins to honk, the driverless car accelerates and continues down the road as effortlessly as any other vehicle. If you're a resident of Chandler, Ariz., Ann Arbor, Mich., or Denver, Colo., an interaction like this is soon to be inevitable. 

Autonomous vehicles have made their journey from an idea, to a proposal, through laboratory testing and now, they will be on your roadways. Partners for Automated Vehicle Education hosted a webinar last week detailing just how this integration of autonomous vehicles happens. 

Economic Development Director for the City of Chandler, Micah Miranda, says his city’s dive into autonomous vehicles was not necessarily for the transportation benefits, initially. 


Introducing AVs

Miranda says his department was primarily focused on the economic standpoint. Making it known that AVs are operating on the road—unmanned—can be quite the draw for automakers as well as car enthusiasts, he says. 

In fact, Miranda says he was shocked at the level of excitement within the Chandler community about the driverless cars. As a public-facing organization, he says the residents are very engaged in what is going on in the community. 

“I was excited to see that Chandler residents could be early adopters of this new technology,” says Miranda. 

For the state of Colorado, the implementation of autonomous vehicles was carried out with less of a focus on community organization and more of a focus on the burgeoning technology. 

Ashley Nylen, assistant director for mobility technology at the Colorado Department of Transportation, has been involved in autonomous vehicle deployment research since 2014. 

Currently, she serves on CDOT’s Autonomous Mobility Task Force which determines whether or not an AV is approved for the road. 

“The Autonomous Mobility Task Force is focused on the deployment of AVs,” she says. “If a vehicle does not comply with federal, local, or state standards—or if it doesn’t have a human at all—it is required to submit an application and meet with the task force for approval.” 


Implementing AVs

When it comes to the physical integration of AVs on the road, Arizona and Colorado also differ on infrastructure. 

Miranda says Chandler is choosing to take a “hands-off” approach by choosing not to invest in infrastructure designed to aid AVs, because “it is not cost effective.”

“Our approach has been to think about how the built environment is going to interact with [autonomous] vehicles,” he says. Instead, they are allocating their resources to community involvement. 

For the city of Chandler, most of the collaboration is carried out between state officials and public safety professionals, such as cops and firefighters. Miranda says public safety officials interact with the vehicles far more than anyone else as they operate on municipal roads. 

“Police officers gather real-time information and relay that back to the policymakers,” he says. “This workflow provides good guidance in how to support this technology for the user and for the safety of the community.” 

As for CDOT, Nylen says they want to invest in infrastructure as much as possible. AV infrastructure includes pavement markings, road signage type and location, and diagrams of the transportation systems. 

“The infrastructure improvements that are good for a highly automated vehicle are also going to be good for human drivers,” reassures Nylen. 


Where do we go from here? 

If your city is thinking about accommodating autonomous vehicles, Miranda recommends taking the community’s pulse first. Making sure your residents are comfortable and in-the-know is a delicate balance, he says, but one that is well worth it. 

He also suggests starting up a dialogue between the policy makers and the professionals. 

“Having these professionals give feedback is invaluable, they have so much perspective,” he says. 

Nylen’s advice is surprisingly similar to Miranda’s, echoing the importance of collaboration. 

“Relationship building is the key,” she says. “Our core goal is to advance safety and advance mobility and there are always things people can do even with limited resources.”

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