Driverless cars are here — now what?
© Getty Images

This week, the United States Government issued a set of guidelines for driverless cars, including regulation and road rules. While cooperation between these vehicles and the government is imperative, something hugely important is lacking in the dialogue. Driverless cars need to put forth guidelines for the government to follow in order to enable their success. And at the top of this list must be the improvement of our public infrastructure.

Automation is the biggest advancement in motor vehicles since the horseless carriage, and just as roads upgraded from dirt to pavement decades ago, our infrastructure must similarly evolve today. Without public roads, bridges, and information systems that match the technological prowess of private sector inventions, autonomous vehicles will reach only a fraction of their true potential.

ADVERTISEMENT

So what does the future driverless city look like, and when will it arrive?

What to expect?

Picture urban planning at its best. Fewer massive parking garages and unsightly freeways plaguing the cityscape, driverless emergency response and police vehicles, and state-of-the-art public transit. In this futuristic world of driverless cars, up to 5,000 square miles that was previously used for parking spaces will be reclaimed for the advantage of communities throughout the country.

The least visible aspects of the modern “smart city,” however, will also be the most impactful.

In order for autonomous vehicles to flourish in the future, they must at least be able to trust the integrity of the infrastructure, and at best work with those surrounding structures as part of an interconnected technological web.

Autonomous cars will eliminate accidents caused by human error, but they will be left powerless against poor road conditions unless live communication with the roads themselves is established. Unseen sensors embedded within the infrastructure of cities will record data on the condition of our roads and bridges. This information will then be fed to enterprise asset management software that collects, processes and analyzes the data. The result is the power to predict maintenance needs and act on issues of structural integrity and dangerous road conditions long before they pose a threat to driverless cars and the passengers inside them. The visibility between the ground we stand on, our cars, and our government officials, married with predictive analytics, will revolutionize transportation as we know it, and not just by safety standards.

Have you ever been stuck at a long red light when no one is coming the other way? Never again. Behind the excitement of Tesla and Google vehicles, advanced software with decision-making capabilities, will reassess speed limits, stop signs, and traffic lights to accommodate the flow of traffic or road conditions at any given time. By gathering and analyzing information from roads and vehicles, the rules of the road will adjust throughout the day, resulting in the smoothest, fastest, and most efficient way to travel.

The integration of sensor technology and the enterprise resource management software that organize, manage, and monitor road repairs, bridges, signs, signal systems, repair facilities, and inspection programs, will bring the age of driverless cars to fruition by allowing citizens to benefit from the full potential of safety and convenience improvements they have to offer.

When to expect it?

Not soon enough.

Our infrastructure is falling apart as it is, let alone technologically advanced enough to accommodate the driverless world. When it comes to taking necessary steps towards a future of connected and collaborative technologies, America’s public sector continues to delay or outright ignore the need for change. According Deloitte, globally 70 percent of government officials consider their digital capabilities well behind those of the private sector. As driverless cars cruise their way closer to reality, our infrastructure remains wildly inadequate to accommodate them – and time is running out.

The technology that enables driverless cars has developed faster than anyone had anticipated. In fact, according to the National League of Cities, only 6 percent of the country’s most populous cities have accounted for these types of vehicles in their long-term plans, yet some thought leaders argue widespread consumer adoption of driverless cars is a mere five years away.

The new guidelines are a promising beginning to government collaboration, but “what can driverless cars do to comply with the government?” is the wrong question. The government must ask themselves, “what can we do for our future cars?” and the sooner, the better. Connected cars require a nation-wide transformation of our cities, and we are nowhere near ready. Private sector autonomous vehicles necessitate intelligent public infrastructure, yet these two areas are advancing at wildly different speeds. It is time for our innovators, our contractors, and our national leaders, to start working together to bring technology across industries up to par. It is time to break down silos and embrace the synergistic future. It is time for us to get behind the wheel and steer change.

Kevin Curry is responsible for all global application sales for Infor Public Sector, Healthcare and EAM business, including federal, state and local governments, higher education and non-profit organizations, hospitals and health systems, extended care providers, and more. Curry joined Infor in March 2012 after eight years with Oracle, where he was responsible for government and healthcare application sales in the U.S. and Canada.


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