By April Spears
In recent years, the number of cars on the road in the U.S. has steadily climbed, reaching an all-time high of 272.48 million in 2017. Of course, with the increase in cars, also comes an increase in traffic and road congestion. In addition to being irritating, traffic congestion can cost individual drivers hundreds of lost hours and thousands of extra dollars every year.
Given the high costs of ever-increasing traffic congestion, many are looking to technology to solve this growing problem. So, how can technology impact traffic in the near future?
One of the most anticipated technological advances of our time is self-driving cars. Every major automotive manufacturer in the world has invested millions (or billions, in some cases) of dollars in technology for autonomous vehicles. Though the technology for a truly autonomous vehicle requiring no human input is still several years away, there’s no doubt that self-driving cars are going to be a major factor on the roads within the next 10 to 20 years.
With regards to traffic, there are a couple of major ways that self-driving cars can contribute to reduced traffic congestion.
Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology allows vehicles to communicate with other vehicles on the road. V2V technology includes both sensors around the exterior of the car and communication technology that allows vehicles to send and receive information from other vehicles on the road.
Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology allows vehicles to communicate with infrastructure, including traffic signals, pedestrian crossings and more. This information will help the vehicle calculate traffic patterns and make route changes based on unexpected situations.
Both V2V and V2I technologies will be important in helping autonomous vehicles navigate roads and determine the most efficient and least congested routes for your trips. In most cases, that should translate to less-congested roadways and faster commute times for everyone.
On the other hand, some studies are predicting that self-driving cars could actually make congestion worse in certain high-population areas. In those cases, researchers believe that some commuters who currently use public transit would opt instead to use automated cars for their commute, thus leading to more vehicles on the road and ultimately making travel problems worse in some areas.
Adaptive Traffic Signals
Adaptive traffic signals work with V2I technology to understand and regulate traffic patterns. Though only in-use in a handful of places currently, these smart systems show great potential for managing traffic patterns and reducing congestion at different times of the day.
Mass transportation options such as buses, trains, and planes make a significant impact on reducing traffic congestion, especially in heavily populated areas. So, advances in mass transit are another way that some companies are hoping to reduce traffic congestion and improve the lives of commuters. Some exciting mass transit projects in development include:
Developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX program, the Hyperloop is a high-speed levitated pod that moves in a low-pressure tube. The pod moves at aircraft-like speeds and can reduce what is now a four-hour drive between major cities to just a 30-minute ride in a pod. The project was created to be open-source, so multiple companies have begun working on this technology and are exploring multiple projects around the U.S. and the world.
Personal Rapid Transit (PRT)
Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) vehicles are another type of pod meant to transport up to 6 people. This type of transportation uses smaller pods on specially-made guideways that are generally built aboveground, like other raised transit systems. It stops at only the stations requested by passengers, allowing it to avoid unnecessary stops and delays. Unlike the Hyperloop, PRT systems are currently in use in a handful of places, including Morgantown, West Virginia and Heathrow Airport in London.
These are just a few of the many technologies currently in development to improve mass transit options around the world. Making affordable mass transportation convenient, and even fun, could be an important key to reducing traffic congestion.
Amazon has made no secret of the fact that it wants to use flying drone technology to make deliveries to customers. It’s even announced the service, Prime Air, and indicated that it plans to use drones to air-deliver products to customers in 30 minutes or less. The logistics of flying drone delivery are extremely complicated, which is why the service hasn’t launched yet. However, Amazon did recently announce another program to use sidewalk drones to deliver products.
The goal is to deliver products to clients quickly and cost-efficiently. However, one of the benefits that result from exploring alternate means of delivery for products is that fewer delivery vehicles will ultimately be on the road. It will be some time before drones of any kind are making enough deliveries to impact traffic patterns, but if drones can reliably be used to deliver packages by retail giants such as Amazon, it will eventually lead to a sizable reduction in the number of vehicles needed to deliver packages.
From high-speed pods to self-driving cars, technology is poised to make big impacts on traffic and travel over the next two decades. Though it’s anyone’s guess as to how much traffic will be impacted, there’s no doubt it’s an exciting time for both technology and travelers.
What travel-related technology are you most excited to see put to use? What new technology do you think will have the most impact on traffic?
April Spears is President and Chief Executive Officer at ELTEC with 15-plus years of experience in the traffic safety industry.