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Center for Transportation Studies

Fall Industry Forum explores personal transportation’s future

The Internet and Wireless Communications: Impacts on Transportation Safety and the Way We Travel was the theme of ITS Minnesota’s Fall Forum, held on October 11 in Saint Paul. The half-day event examined emerging technologies in the areas of navigation, driver assistance and vehicle connectivity, and also explored how these technologies are likely to affect drivers and other travelers. ITS Minnesota sponsors semiannual forums that bring together government, industry and academic perspectives on selected transportation topics. This session focused primarily on technologies aimed at the automobile.

ITS Minnesota president Marthand Nookala opened the session with a brief overview of technological trends already impacting transportation. He was followed by Dennis Weiszhaar, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, who highlighted Mn/DOT’s ongoing involvement with advanced transportation technologies.

Industry Directions

Session One consisted of presentations by representatives of several industry leaders in transportation technology.
Harry Voccola, senior vice president of Navigation Technologies in Middletown, New Jersey, gave a detailed presentation on the evolution of electronic mapping and driver-assistive navigation systems for personal vehicles.

Voccola explained that the current first generation technology based on CD-ROMs updated once or twice a year is about to be replaced by second generation systems based on DVD data storage and updated monthly. These new systems will offer greater accuracy of up to one meter resolution, and may include real-time traffic information delivered by wireless network. In third generation systems, debuting around 2005, vehicles will report back road information to a central database and receive daily updates. Improvements in positioning systems and data collection will likely make these systems accurate to within 10 centimeters.

Richard Mudge, president of the Compass Services Division of U.S. Wireless Corporation, explored the convergence of three currently independent networks: transportation, the Internet, and wireless communications. He stated that existing systems for collecting and distributing data are not designed to serve the “new media” of computers and wireless devices; these systems will evolve to meet the needs of an increasingly informed transportation system. The emergence of universally available location information, he continued, will be as revolutionary for transportation as the adoption of worldwide standardized timekeeping.

The third presenter was Luc Debrouckere, research and development manager of SmartMove, a Belgian company developing advanced telematics systems to deliver a variety of information services to drivers. All cars and trucks, in his view, will become parts of the “information highway”-constantly exchanging real-time information with the outside world to assist drivers and passengers. To accomplish this, future systems will take advantage of universal communication standards, and integrate such functions as on-board vehicle diagnostics, navigation assistance, cargo tracking, and even insurance policy coverage.

Any technology forum would seem incomplete without the Microsoft perspective, provided by business development manager Robert Rebholtz from Redmond, WA. He offered a vision of the future in which the personal automobile became a “communications hub” alongside the home and the office, facilitating a lifestyle in which constant access to information will be an essential element.

Human Factors

Following the morning break, Session Two shifted the focus to human factors and safety implications surrounding wireless technology, led by Major Dennis Lazenberry of the Minnesota State Patrol.

Peter Hancock, professor of kinesiology and leisure studies and research director of the University of Minnesota’s Human Factors Research Laboratory, presented his analysis of communication technology’s impact on personal vehicle travel, and responded to the preceding industry presentations. Based on extensive research into driver behavior, he outlined the way humans perform an “overlearned” task such as driving an automobile, and highlighted the ways drivers may respond to an increase in the amount of information they have to process. Hancock was also critical of many of the scenarios presented in the first session, and urged attendees to think about “what should be done, not just what can be done” in terms of new technology.

Many of Hancock’s themes were echoed by Louis Tijerina of the Ford Research Laboratory in Dearborn, Michigan. Tijerina’s presentation focused on studies of driver inattentiveness in which subjects were required to respond to a cellular telephone or other communications device while stopping or actively maneuvering. The results pointed to some ways in which manufacturers and users of communication devices might avoid dangerous situations. He went on to highlight guidelines and regulations for Human/Machine Interfaces currently under development in Japan and in the European Union.

A luncheon presentation by Joe Giglio, past chairman of ITS America and currently senior advisor at Hagler Bailly, New Jersey, rounded out the forum. Giglio drew a distinction between sustaining technology, which improves our ability to do what we do now, and disruptive technology which forces a dramatic change in how we conduct our daily activities. As the next wave of communications technology washes over the transportation system, Fall Forum attendees will likely see both sustaining and disruptive technologies emerge and affect how we do our jobs.

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