In Preparation for Driverless Cars, States Start Upgrading Roads

Here’s what some places are already doing to accommodate self-driving and connected vehicles.

📅   Tue March 08, 2016 - National Edition


The cars of the future may not need drivers, but that doesn't mean they'll be self-sufficient.
The cars of the future may not need drivers, but that doesn't mean they'll be self-sufficient.

The website Governing is reporting that the cars of the future may not need drivers, but that doesn't mean they'll be self-sufficient. In fact, they could force states and cities to upgrade their roads and other infrastructure.

That kind of infrastructure tomorrow's vehicles will require, of course, depends on which technologies become commonplace. “Connected” vehicles that communicate with other vehicles, traffic lights and weather sensors, for example, will require more infrastructure than self-driving cars. But even driverless cars might require road upgrades.

“As we build new roads, are there things we need to put in place now?” asked Kirk Steudle, the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Here's a look at what states and localities are already doing to accommodate driverless cars and connected vehicles.

Improving Pavement Markings

"Pavement markings are a real easy one," said Steudle. But something that may be necessary to upgrade nonetheless.

Driverless cars rely on cameras, radar and laser-mapping tools to determine where they are. (GPS, at least for now, is not precise enough to keep cars on the road.) Those cameras use striping and other pavement markings to understand their surroundings, but the quality and consistency of those markings can vary greatly.

After Delphi, an auto parts manufacturer, took its driverless vehicle on a cross-country trip, company officials told Steudle that despite nominally uniform standards across states, the pavement markings were actually all different.

Even within one state, the standards can vary. Automakers noticed when Michigan highway crews in one region started painting the dashed lines between lanes slightly differently, for example, and asked Steudle whether that would be the new statewide standard. It was the first time Steudle heard about it.

“The hard infrastructure, the pavement and the pavement markings, that's ours,” he said. “We have to, frankly, just take better care of it, and it has to be prioritized.”

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