There’s no shortage of interesting roads to go down when considering the future of driverless cars. To imagine the host of advanced mechanical processes present in these machines and how burgeoning innovations will shift the transportation dynamic can evoke otherworldly imaginations. However, there’s one critical factor that permeates any scenario: infrastructure.
It’s useful to think of driverless technology as a type of interactive relationship between two computers computers – the vehicle itself and the infrastructure surrounding it. As for the vehicle, the driverless car has a series of devices and mechanisms, commonly referred to as V2X technology (“vehicle to x”). V2X technology and its various receivers, sensors and transmitters, “communicate” with a kind of “smart” infrastructure (in addition to other vehicles). This technology already exists in many driver-operated vehicles on the road today, facilitating blind-spot detectors and auto-brake technology, among other features.
As for the infrastructure, a “smart” infrastructure theoretically consists of thousands of sensors that in turn communicate with the vehicle itself, essentially allowing the car to be acquainted with its surroundings and situated within its lane of traffic, avoiding collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians or whatever else may lie in its path.
So, what will it take for our nation’s infrastructure to be “driverless ready”? Cities and private interests across the country are taking the initiative to find out. For example, the City of Atlanta, in connection with AT&T, Georgia Tech and the Georgia Department of Transportation, announced earlier in the year its intent to launch a “smart corridor” on the city’s North Avenue. The city estimated that revamping North Avenue will entail installation of some 20,000 “pedestrian and mobility sensors”, 50,000 “environmental sensors” and 10,000 cameras atop the already 960 existing street lights on a 3.5 mile stretch of road.
If Atlanta is any indication of what would be required to realize driverless commuting on a national level, expectations of change should be tempered. It’s easy to get excited about the new ways we could get from point “A” to point “B” but the challenge of revamping and repairing our infrastructure on a national scale is a real one.