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Pt. 1: Tapping Your Inner Futurist - The Future of Transportation

July 1, 2016

In mid-June, news spread that Columbus, Ohio had been selected over other finalist cities including Austin, Denver and Pittsburgh to win the $50 million Smart City Challenge prize. The prize funds and associated technology partnerships will allow the central Ohio region to accelerate integration of connected vehicles, sensing networks and electrified fleets.  

While Austin’s bid fell short, it is still a great time for optimism that Central Texas might achieve the same Smart City outcomes with the right roadmap, community buy-in and political will. 

In August at the RECA Exchange Keynote Transportation Breakfast, I’ll take you through several Smart City trends shaped at the intersection of data-driven innovation and transportation networks. In this part one of a two-part blog, let’s look at the first theme: 

Grow with Flow: Moving from Driver to Captain Culture 

Think about your last trip on an airplane and quickly say who flew the plane! Ask 10 other people and their answer will likely be ‘the captain flew the plane’.  In reality, excluding a few minutes during take-off and landing, it was an automated system that flew the plane. The human programmed the flight plan but it was mostly an automated system in control. Yet for the passengers, it was still the captain who was in charge.  

This same type of automation-led transition awaits the automotive experience in the era of connected cars and autonomous vehicles. Think of the shift as moving us from driver to captain. To accommodate the majority of people who are reluctant to change, the new mental model is not giving up control but redefining how we define control when working with driver assist and semi-autonomous systems that will be commonplace in all vehicles. Like the revered airplane captains of the world, regular, car-driving citizens will soon become captains of connected vehicles that are able to sense the world around them and then accelerate, brake or change lanes when needed to avoid accidents and to maintain optimized flow on our roadways.

The shift from driver to captain is unfolding slow and steady. Within a few years driving assistant systems piped through our smart phones will not only tell us when to take a left or right turn, but also what lane to travel in and what ideal speed we should follow so we can cruise along without braking and stopping around phantom traffic jams.

The ideal future is an Austin community able to navigate seamlessly from the ‘driver’ to ‘captain’ mindset. The captain mindset appears during rush hour when we follow specific guidance from phone-based navigation devices – or for those with new vehicles that have shifted control of braking and steering to semi-autonomous systems. The benefit will be increased ‘flow’ and utilization of our existing road systems as we reduce traffic jams caused by human nature and the erratic decisions to speed up, brake and make ill-informed lane changes.

Beyond the commute, the driver mindset will likely appear when driving through the Hill Country and when we want the pleasure of full manual control. 
Long before our roads are filled with autonomous vehicles, we can improve flow by transforming how human drivers make decisions and assume command of connected vehicles with semi-autonomous features. At the RECA Exchange in August we will explore a roadmap for Austin to create a captain culture of commuters who leverage decision support systems and semi-autonomous vehicles to grow with flow.

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