Will artificial intelligence speed your commute?
© Getty

Artificial intelligence is changing the way many of us work; it’s also changing the way we get to work – and how fast we get there.  

Connected and autonomous vehicles are already on the road, offering luxuries such as self-parking and automated lane control. But Artificial Intelligence, or AI as it is commonly referred to, has the potential to offer much more.


Imagine the day you no longer have to wait in that long line at your favorite coffee shop because your vehicle knows a faster way to get there – and has already pre-ordered your “go-to” triple-shot, soy, no-foam latte. Then imagine when your vehicle can take you on the fastest route to the office and even snag that prime parking spot by the elevator, all the while listening to your favorite music or talk-radio program.

This is the type of automated world we’re moving toward. In fact, the White House just published a new report this month about “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.”

The report notes that “AI-enabled smarter traffic applications are reducing wait times, energy use, and emissions by as much as 25 percent in some places.” And with further research and development, this will be the new normal.

Big data analytics is the latest concept that promises to bring transportation systems to the next level of intelligence and, ultimately, help commuters arrive at their destinations faster and safer. 

More information is being collected and stored today than ever before, thanks to the growing volume of information communication technologies, the Internet of Things, and a slew of smartphone apps and smart sensors we use everyday. Plus, even more effective and useful data will soon be collected as more connected vehicles arrive on our roads.  

Indeed, we have a tremendous volume of very granular data that can be analyzed to help us – and our vehicles – make the most intelligent decisions about how to operate our systems. Additionally, as this data is used, AI systems will learn and continually improve to assure even better solutions in the future. These new data sets can help companies and governments uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, user trends and other useful business intelligence.

In effect, AI and big data analytics can help clear congestion and speed our commutes.

For example, we could use data from all vehicles, citizens and systems (i.e. traffic signals, roadway sensors, parking space sensors, etc.) to provide drivers with alternate route choices in real time. We could also balance traffic across the entire road network to not only reduce travel time, but also reduce our carbon footprint. Indeed, many studies and research papers have shown that we can eliminate congestion in urban areas if we used all available capacity effectively.

Freeways often remain completely gridlocked during peak periods while parallel highways, arterials and transits operate with relatively minimal usage. Big data analytics solves this by making reversible lanes, dynamic lane management and even hard-shoulder running a real-time reality.

Another way AI and big data analytics can be used to speed our commutes is through the collection of precise weather information. Connected vehicles can report what the temperature is outside, whether its windshield wipers are in use and, if so, how rapidly they’re operating.

This data can then be used to very accurately access exactly where rainfall is occurring and how heavy it’s pouring down. Using the automobiles thermometer and traction control, we will know air temperature, the likelihood of snow and how slick the roads are.  With this information, we can better inform motorists by posting advisories and recommend slower traffic speeds using variable speed limit messaging on roadway signs and into their connected vehicles and feed the data into routing Apps and programs selecting the most optimal routes considering the weather in addition to other factors.

This would be particularly beneficial in cities like Los Angeles, where rainfall (not as frequent as we’d like) increases traffic incidents tenfold, often due to oil and other slippery substance buildup on the roads. If drivers, and automobiles, were armed with more precise weather information, it could drastically reduce congestion stemming from traffic collisions.

As this month’s White House report notes, AI has the potential to help address some of the biggest challenges out there, including speeding our commutes. But in order to reach this potential, the transportation and infrastructure industry must work closely with the government and general public to support further AI advancement and integration into all modes of transportation along with the integration into policy, regulations and cultural driving habits.

Charles L. “Chuck” Harrington is Chairman and CEO of Parsons, a Pasadena-based $3 billion technology-driven engineering services firm with more than 70 years of experience in the engineering, construction, technical, and professional services industries. Parsons employs nearly 14,000 people in more than 100 locations worldwide. 

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.