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By Steve Griffith, Industry Director, PMP, National Electrical Manufacturers Association

The Future of Transportation: It's not as Far off as You ThinkSteve Griffith, Industry Director, PMP, National Electrical Manufacturers Association

Everything about how we move from Point A to Point B in safe, cyber-secure, and efficient ways is changing. The industry is abuzz about a future transportation landscape that is increasingly connected, electrified, shared, and ultimately autonomous. Rapid advances in transportation technologies have been further augmented by information and communication technologies, including the internet of things (IoT). Within the transportation ecosystem, IoT applications can extend to such things as the vehicle, the infrastructure, the driver, the pedestrian, and the cyclist. However, we will never realize the full potential of the future of transportation without investing in smart, connected infrastructure.

Imagine apps that can help you find open parking spaces, locate rideshare partners at the last minute, make a guaranteed bus or train connection, or even help a blind pedestrian cross the street. Furthermore, visualize an app that can help you save gas by optimizing the phasing of traffic signals to eliminate idling and unnecessary stops and starts. Imagine an application that would suggest taking alternative routes, public transit, or rescheduling a trip in order to avoid congestion—thereby making your trip eco-friendlier. This isn’t farfetched—many of these applications exist today.

Four main technologies are transforming today’s transportation landscape: electrification, connected/autonomous vehicles, ridesharing, and drones.

Electrification

Since the first Ford Model T rolled off an assembly line in 1908, the gasoline-powered, internal combustion engine has propelled most vehicles manufactured and driven in the United States. According to Consumer Reports, there are now more than one million electric vehicles on U.S. roads.

We will never realize the full potential of the future of transportation without investing in smart, connected infrastructure

Furthermore, several automobile manufacturers have announced plans to produce or expand their portfolio over the coming years.

The primary factors addressing the growth of electric vehicle sales are declining costs and efforts to address “range anxiety” (the fear that a vehicle has insufficient range to reach its destination and would thus strand the vehicle’s occupants). Recent advancements in battery technology are exerting downward pressure on prices, while economies of scale from higher production levels and lower fuel costs are reducing total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the vehicle. In addition, there are currently local, regional, and national efforts underway to deploy electric vehicle charging equipment throughout the United States.

Connected/Autonomous Vehicles

Opinions vary on when fully autonomous vehicles will become main stream. However, new technologies are now being developed that enable vehicles to connect and “talk” to other vehicles, infrastructure, even our smart phones. Connected vehicles use broadcast communication to continuously share safety and mobility information.  Connected vehicle communications fall into two categories: vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure. Applications include advisories, warnings, and vehicle and/or infrastructure controls.

Ridesharing

Mobile technology provides us an avenue to connect new transportation options with the push of a button. Companies such as Lyft, Uber, Bird, and Lime are changing how transportation is accessed. They have introduced a new way for people to participate in the sharing economy as drivers, riders, or both.

Within the urban environment, ridesharing has even eliminated the need for some individuals to own their own vehicles. With the convenience of a smart phone riders can check the availability of, reserve, and unlock a vehicle or a scooter. This paradigm shift will most likely require local governments to re-think how to regulate ridesharing platforms in an industry that was previously dominated by taxis.

 

Drones

From large reconnaissance aircraft to small quad copters, unmanned aerial vehicles referred to as “drones,” are becoming an increasing presence in our airspace. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, more than a million commercial and non-commercial drones are registered in the United States, with estimates ranging as high as six million registered drones by 2021.

Drones are currently used in a variety of public and private activities, such as agriculture, real estate, film, first responders, insurance, and infrastructure inspection. Potential future uses include personal transport and goods delivery. These applications can create efficiencies, lower costs, and remove workers from hazardous or dangerous situations.

The Role of Infrastructure

There is a vital infrastructure component associated with this transportation transformation. By infrastructure, I am not referring to the traditional concrete and asphalt often associated with surface transportation. Infrastructure has evolved and now also includes information and communication technologies that apply to roads, vehicles, users, traffic, and mobility management. Today’s infrastructure accommodates a growing number of these transformational technologies like ride-hailing and car-sharing, electric vehicles, connected and autonomous vehicles, and drones. A modernized transportation infrastructure enhances driver safety, reduces congestion, improves commerce, and benefits the environment.

Electrical equipment manufacturers—Members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA)—produce integrated information management and control systems that inform users and facilitate smarter utilization of transport networks. Their products and assemblies deliver and manage electrical energy between an electric vehicle and an electrical source; enable energy stored in electric vehicles to be fed back into the electric grid; and encompass outdoor and roadway lighting solutions ranging from traditional methods to intelligent ones that adapt to surroundings. Essentially, electrical manufacturers are building the products and systems that constitute this modernized transportation infrastructure. Now is the time for investments in this key component of the transportation future, which is not as far off as you think.

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