Special Report: Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

Aug. 15, 2018
An overview of the state of the industry as it relates to autonomous and connected vehicles.

The development of the smart city with autonomous and connected vehicles is rapidly progressing and while there’s speculation on what exactly the consequences will be, one certainty is that it will change how people move.

There’s a notion of the “heaven or hell” scenario, whether it’s a world where everyone owns autonomous cars and they’re out on the roads running errands with and without passengers increasing congestion or if it will mean an increase of a shared economy where we see congestion mitigation, reduced emissions and an easier commute for people.

Autonomous vs. Connected Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles can guide themselves without human conduction.

Connected vehicles are equipped with internet access, enabling safe, interoperable networked wireless communications among vehicles, infrastructure, and other devices.

Autonomy doesn’t require connectivity, though it makes autonomous vehicles more efficient.

Preparing for an autonomous world

While there are questions about what the future will look like, we can conclusively say they are here and it is a reality cities need to be prepared for.

There are resources out there, including from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National League of Cities. The DOT has partnered with a wide array of partners to support the safe development, testing and deployment of automated vehicle technology.

DOT Draft Guiding Principles

Principle #1: Promote proactive, data-driven safety, cybersecurity, and privacy-protection practices.

Principle #2: Act as a facilitator to inspire and enable voluntary data exchanges.

Principle #3: Start small to demonstrate value, and scale what works toward a bigger vision.

Principle #4: Coordinate across modes to reduce costs, reduce industry burden, and accelerate action.


The NLC’s policy preparation guide for autonomous vehicles helps target the questions, concerns and opportunities cities need to start discussing to address policies and legal issues that need to be addressed. In addition to posing the difficult questions to be grappled with, they have five recommendations to help in preparing our cities and streets.

National League of Cities: A Policy Preparation Guide


  1. AVs are on our roads today, so start planning now.
  2. Policy development with the right people at the table.
  3. Track and monitor federal and state developments and make your voices heard.
  4. Begin planning infrastructure needs and building data and computing capacity to position your city to take advantage of an automated mobility future.


Between 2014 and 2017, the Brooking Institution research stated at least $80 billion has been put into driverless car technology through investments and transactions. In addition to the investment in the technology, the U.S. Congress has taken steps in creating federal laws governing testing and deployment. Last fall, a House panel approved the SELF DRIVE Act, and the following month the Senate Commerce Committee passed a similar bill, the AV START Act.

H.R. 3388 • SELF DRIVE Act

Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act

This bill establishes the federal role in ensuring the safety of highly automated vehicles by encouraging the testing and deployment of such vehicles. The bill applies certain safety exemptions and testing standards to highly automated vehicles. It passed the House and was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

S.1885 • AV START Act

American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies

It supports and provides a regulatory framework for manufacturer development of autonomous vehicle technology. It was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.

Stages of Autonomy

Calstart’s Michael Ippoliti, director Clean Transportation Solutions Group, said during a Calstart webinar on autonomous mini-shuttles, said, “To borrow from ZF, there are three elements involved of autonomous: see, think, act.” To do that, requires the following:

  • Sensors: Cameras, radar, lidar and sonar provide ultraprecise mapping.
  • Sensor Fusion: Powerful processors come in to play, which were specifically built for the purpose.
  • Control Decisions: The software that makes decisions.
  • Actuation: Physically performing actions, such as changing gears, applying brakes and steering.

Levels of Driving Automation as Defined by SAE International Standards J3016

Human driver monitors the driving environment

0 - No Automation: Full-time performance by the human driver by all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems.

1 - Driver Assistance: The driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.

2 - Partial Automation: The driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.

Automated driving system monitors the driving environment

3 - Conditional Automation: The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.

4 - High Automation: The driving mode-specific performance by automated driving systems of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.

5 - Full Automation: The full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver.


Autonomy In Action

The Living Lab: Intelligent Mobility

Living Labs at the University of Nevada in Reno, Nevada, was created to allow the testing of synchronized mobility technologies in complex urban environments. Researchers and partners test, develop and refine technologies aimed at making transportation more efficient, sustainable and safe.

The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County has partnered UNL and others on an Intelligent Mobility project. The Proterra buses are equipped with cameras and sensors, which are used to gather data to be used for improving safety and efficiencies. Kostas Alexis, assistant professor at UNR, explained the driver will still be in control, but her or she is augmented with additional information. The data will be used to investigate the possibility of automating such a large vehicle in a city setting.

The success of the project will be defined by its contributions to transportation safety, reductions in fuel consumption and emissions, commercialization of research, business growth and workforce development.


Volvo to Bring Autonomous Electric Buses to Singapore

Volvo Buses and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore signed a cooperation agreement on a research and development program for autonomous, electric, 40-foot buses. One bus will be used on Singapore’s advanced new test facility for autonomous vehicles and the second bus will be used for tests in the bus depot.


LAVTA Testing on Public Roads

The Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority launched the testing of a shared autonomous shuttle June 22, 2017. Vehicle testing will take place on public roads in the city of Dublin, California. LAVTA and EasyMile project partners include GoMentum Station, which will oversee the entire testing process and First Transit, which will provide staffing, maintenance and operation support.


Transforming its Skyway

In 2017, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority began work on the development of the Ultimate Circulator Program: U2C. In the spring of 2018, JTA unveiled the EasyMile EZ10 Gen-2 test vehicle available for the public to ride during events. Testing will look at the feasibility of implementing autonomous transit into the existing Skyway and planned routes along the riverfront.


Long-Term Outcomes

The Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium National Smart Vehicle Demonstration Project aims to improve mobility options for Canadians, driving innovation in autonomous vehicle and connected vehicle technologies. The goal of the projects is to demonstrate the ability of Canadian transit agencies and municipalities to integrate small- and medium-sized vehicles as replacements to large buses and/or as additions to non-mobile communities or routes that do not lend themselves to full-sized transit services today.

The project will focus on the standardization of communications tools and cybersecurity protocols governing the movements of mobility vehicles on dedicated and mixed-traffic lanes. It will also explore technologies allied to smart city infrastructure for trial corridors, vehicle operation, services and personnel requirements, and energy and resource management for electrified, smart vehicles.

Many autonomous shuttle trials are one-off pilots, short-term projects that learn a lot of information but CUTRIC Executive Director & CEO Josipa Petrunic said this demonstration projects is about a large-scale interoperability deployment. The various autonomous electric shuttle manufacturers all use different charging infrastructure and different vehicle communication. With the launch of the project, she said not all of the vehicle shuttle manufacturers or the vehicle-to-vehicle communications software designers have said they want to join because from their view, proprietary systems have the sale of the future. “And that’s a choice,” said Petrunic. “It’s a commercial choice and it may or may not work out for those companies. But for those companies that are willing to standardize, we can work with those companies to try and get them in the transit domain.”

AI and Automation

A prototype vehicle was recently displayed, showcasing ZF’s range of components: electric drive, AI, and safety and chassis technologies, as part of a joint venture of ZF with e.GO, a new mobility provider. The biggest technical challenge for the vehicle, the e.GO Mover, is training the system. While simulation plays a role in development, artificial intelligence will be the main driver and that will require training.


Safety & Security

While autonomous technology will make the roads safer, connected vehicles can communicate with vehicles and infrastructure around them via internet and wireless local networks, raise concerns about cybersecurity, privacy protection and ownership of data.

Manufacturers need to program vehicles to respond correctly to the occurrences that can happen, whether that’s a plastic bag blowing in the wind in front of the car, a deer crossing the street, or a child riding his or her bike across the street.

Future crashes could lead to lawsuits against manufacturers of the vehicles or the software systems, as there is no driver making decisions. Determining where liability lies will be an important legal pitfall to be addressed.

You Can’t Have a Smart City with Dumb Roads

One of the big challenges that cities face when contemplating the "smart city" future, is what to do with all the vehicles that most communities rely on to transport people and goods. The reality is that even in relatively well-developed metropolitan areas, most roads still remain fairly dumb.

Autonomous vehicles are already being tested on public roadways, and despite some well-publicized growing pains, these systems are virtually certain to be in commercial use fairly soon. Won’t these smart vehicles eliminate the need for smart roadways though? The answer is: not really.

Connected vehicles, of course, depend on connections, which is where ITS comes in. A growing variety of connectivity options are becoming available — from 5G wireless broadband to internet of things technologies (complementing existing 4G networks) — which will make it possible for highway agencies to offer drivers and driverless vehicles alike a wide array of smart services.

Intelligent transportation systems can play an important role in addressing the vexing problem of traffic congestion, and even lay the groundwork for the implementation of a broader, more efficient and diversified city-wide transportation system.


Enabling Autonomous Applications for Transit

Challenges remain before we can take the next step into fully autonomous trains and buses — not least of which is the need to ensure that transit vehicles remain constantly connected through real-time data.

To ensure safety and efficiency are never compromised, some transit agencies are looking to kinetic mesh wireless networks, which enable continuous, mobile connectivity, and can act as the backbone of autonomous applications.
In a kinetic mesh wireless network, each radio, or node, serves as singular infrastructure, which enables all devices and the network itself to be mobile. It employs multiple radio frequencies and any-node-to-any-node capabilities to continuously and instantly route data via the best available traffic path and frequency, using hundreds of nodes.

If a certain path becomes unavailable for any reason — due to antenna failure or power loss to a piece of equipment, for example — nodes on the network use an alternate route to deliver the data, eliminating any downtime. These nodes provide mesh networks with flexibility and stable communications in even the most rugged mobile environments.