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home : most recent : bartholomew January 18, 2018

11/17/2017 6:16:00 PM
Indiana ready to prep for self-driving cars

Scott L. Miley, Lebanon Reporter CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — State agencies are working with private firms and Purdue University to prepare Indiana roads and licensing requirements for self-driving vehicles.

The agreements come as the Indiana General Assembly will likely be presented with a plan to form a task force evaluating the changes needed to bring, first, connected vehicles and, later, autonomous technology to Hoosier roads.

Connected vehicles are able to pinpoint locations of other vehicles on the road, while autonomous vehicles can monitor the road and drive for an entire trip without the intervention of a human. 

The proposal would echo Gov. Eric Holcomb's support for the development of autonomous vehicles he noted in laying out his agenda for 2018.

"We're going to prepare for the next generation, really the next evolution, in transportation by authorizing autonomous vehicles on our roads and creating an environment that attracts research and development, safely by the way," Holcomb said.

Although state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said it might be as late as 2040 before autonomous vehicles become a reality, the chairman of the Roads and Transportation Committee, noted, "you still have to have it in your long-range funding plans of how you're going to pay for things. There's such a gap between researchers and the vision-casters."

The Legislature will likely need to set parameters, ranging from research to vehicle registration to rewriting laws to allow for technologically connected trucks operating in platoons.

A testing facility at Purdue University is expected to aid in any transition. The Purdue Research Foundation signed an agreement this summer with Pruv Mobility Ecosystem for a 517-acre facility near the university's airport.

The Columbus-based company is to build a "Smart City" where self-driving vehicles encounter pedestrians, bicyclists and varying pavements among other challenges, said Pruv President and CEO John Fairbanks.

"There are so many companies out there that want to get connected to an autonomous mobility test bed," he said. "We strive to fill that underserved market."

Plans are underway with state agencies, including the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Indiana State Police and the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, to help make the eventual transition to autonomous vehicles.

In January, Purdue University's Joint Transportation Research Program began working with INDOT to study other states making the transition to automated and connected vehicles, even researching how to coordinate traffic signals.

Weather impact

Connected vehicles use devices, such as short-range radio signals, to communicate with each other and know the location of other vehicles on the road. The range is greater than current on-board vehicle equipment.

Connected vehicles are being touted as one way to reduce up to 80 percent of crashes in which drivers are not impaired, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Purdue and INDOT have initiated tests of roadside equipment, located in existing traffic signal boxes, for connected vehicles along U.S. 30 at Merrillville, U.S. 231 at West Lafayette and U.S. 31 in Greenwood.

Some consumer cars are currently equipped with connected technology; Cadillac's CTS sedan will offer vehicle-to-vehicle communication to share road data.

"We're going to at least see a weather cycle or two to fully understand if there's any effect when it's 10 degrees out and snowing versus sunny and 80," said INDOT Chief of Staff Chris Kiefer.

One new technique — truck platooning — may be the first visible sign in connected vehicles. Under platooning, two semitrailers use a wireless link to stay within 50 feet of one another, reducing fuel usage and decreasing wind resistance. Braking and speed are communicated through the link.

States, including Ohio, began testing the technology this year. Indiana state law would likely need to be changed to allow platooning, officials said, since, for example, the distance between trucks is limited to 300 feet.

Autonomous future

Autonomous vehicles are further down the technological road.

The U.S. Department of Transportation now lists the average age of passenger cars at 11.6 years compared to 8.4 years in 1995, which could delay mass use of autonomous cars.

"Even if this stuff really starts to trickle into the marketplace 10 years down the road, we've got to prepare for that now," Kiefer said.

INDOT has also posted a notice that its future needs include a study on autonomous vehicle eco-systems — the whole gamut of AV useage.

"Automated vehicles isn't just about the vehicle but it's about the road the vehicle is on," BMV Commissioner Peter Lacy recently told his board.

Automated driving systems are rated at levels 0 to 5, with the lowest number being where the driver does it all to the fully autonomous Level 5. The currently common Level 2 car has such options as cruise control and lane-centering capability.

Currently, BMV would register a Level 2 vehicle as any other if it meets federal standards, an official said. But state legislators would likely need to redefine vehicle titling, registration and insurance requirements for autonomous vehicles. BMV is even looking at driver licenses that may one day be a mobile card accessible through cellphones.

"These vehicles have, in essence, electronic eyes that look for road signs, look for lane markings," Lacy said. "So how INDOT puts signs up on the roads matters. Doing this in connection with INDOT is critically important to make sure the roads and the technology work together."

Aiding an older population

In 2013, the Indiana Governor's Council for People with Disabilities published a look at future technology in its then bimonthly newsletter, noting, "Autonomous cars can also mean true mobility and independence for the aging population and people with disabilities."

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