Should the Best Idea Win if it’s Not Fair?

It’s a controversial and rarely asked question in intelligent transportation. Should the best idea win if it’s not fair?

In a discussion on diversity held at INTERSECT17, panelists and audience members debated the issue through the lens of service delivery and fairness, particularly in disadvantaged communities. GRIDSMART Founder and CEO Bill Malkes, who moderated the discussion, asked panelists to consider his hometown of Detroit where there hasn’t been a full-service grocery store in decades pointing out that mobility is huge issue. “It’s also one of the most-unhealthy cities,” he said asking the question, who if anyone, needs to pay to level the field.

Greg Dotson, Engineering Manager at Neel Schaffer suggested that we all have an obligation to be inclusive. “At least invite the disadvantaged to the table,” he said. “There are a lot of barriers to be overcome.” The concern of course, is that underserved communities and demographic groups don’t have the financial means to control their own mobility destiny. Disadvantaged and elderly residents are at risk of being forgotten as the future of transportation and transit evolves.

Tennessee Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner, Toks Omishakin answered the question by saying, “yes. The best idea should win, but “only if there’s an unwavering commitment to fairness and equity down the line.”

Accuracy is Key to the Multi-Modal Future

Every day brings a new advancement in the Intelligent Transportation industry, and with the growing use of shared mobility and an increase in different modes of transportation, consumers are beginning to take full advantage of their options.

Tarik Hammadou, CEO of VIMOC Technologies, says that there is a paradigm shift quickly coming to transportation that will move us from an auto-driven world to a multi-modal focused structure which will put a great deal of stress on the existing system. Because of this, we will need to be thinking ahead and begin moving away from one-dimensional data that is imprecise to multiple streams of highly accurate data that will need to be calculated in real-time at the edge of the cloud. Hammadou said that as we move toward autonomous vehicles, this accuracy will be key to getting to the next step.

VIMOC Technologies is a leader in creating Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions at the edge of the network. In partnership with UCLA, they recently deployed their AI-enabled deep learning Rosella™ Platform that is providing real-time, accurate information on the university’s heavily trafficked Gateway Plaza loop.

UCLA is currently in the full-throws of experiencing this multi-modal revolution and sees 68,000 ride-hailing stops a week, creating massive traffic-flow challenges on campus. Embracing this reality, the new system visually detects and classifies different transportation modes including cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians allowing them to quickly identify problems that can quickly be resolved with soft enforcement. It’s an innovative approach that makes sure the curb space in the loop area will be managed effectively and improves the overall user experience.

This exciting partnership has allowed VIMOC to validate it’s new and effective approach to managing multi-modal traffic on arguably one of the busiest college campuses in California. Hammadou says that giving these operators real-time and highly accurate information allows them to make improvements to existing structures and also change transportation behavior.

Vision Zero Through Big Data

Carlos Braceras, Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director and the incoming chair of ITS America, discussed his state’s goal of reducing traffic fatalities to zero during a presentation at INTERSECT17. He said the key to understanding the crash issue, is in first understanding the reason for transportation system. “Fundamentally, every transportation system was built for one reason; to grow the economy,” he said. Going a step further, he said that the job of any department of transportation is to operate with virtual anonymity. Pointing out that the criteria that define success are to get to zero crashes, to optimize mobility and preserve the infrastructure. “When we do a really good job, when we’re really being successful, nobody knows we exist.”

Utah DOT has identified five primary reasons for traffic crashes: not wearing seatbelts, distracted driving, speeding or aggressive driving, driving impaired and drowsy driving. In 2002, in a courageous step, the department decided to take responsibility for reducing the number of traffic fatalities. “This is the thing that keeps me up at night,” he said. The safety of my employees and the safety of the public, and every time there’s a serious accident, I get a text message.” He argued that the single item that could make the greatest impact in reducing crashes and fatalities is the consistent wearing of seatbelts. While only 15% of Utah’s population don’t wear seatbelts, their numbers account for 50% of the crash fatalities in the state.

The “Vision Zero” program took direct aim at schools and teen drivers who represent a disproportionate percentage of crash fatalities. With a public awareness campaign, media coverage, school events and a memorial wall featuring photos and profiles of many of the teens who’ve died on Utah’s roads, Braceras showed that the numbers were reduced from a high of well over 300 to a low in the low 200’s in a few years. But the battle is not over. Braceras also discussed how big data could play into safety as well as mobility moving forward. “We’re going to be the first DOT in the country to have full time situational awareness,” he said. “I’m going to know when a car hits a pothole.”

Why ITS Policy Matters

INTERSECT17’s theme, “It’s time we had the talk,” is about generating new thought and sometimes controversial ideas.

In a panel discussion entitled “Why ITS Policy Matters,” when asked to discuss where we are on the path to fully autonomous vehicles, Alain Kornhauser, Director of Princeton University’s Program in Transportation responded, “We’re still at zero.” While many technical issues surrounding driverless vehicles have been solved, social issues including liability, privacy and the increasing threat of a hack or full scale cyber-attack threat are incredibly polarizing, and will require deep discussion and compromise to be resolved.

In a lively discussion moderated by Alliance for Transportation Innovation CEO, Paul Brubaker, other panelists were somewhat more optimistic citing the safety and mobility benefits of full autonomy as well as a variety of other advantages. Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters who served during the Bush (43) administration told a very personal story about her aging father. “I had to personally take away his driver’s license and I tell people he began to die that day,” she said. Highlighting the benefit of a vehicle that drives itself, she said, “That doesn’t have to be the case in the future.”

Patrick Son, Managing Director of the National Operations Center of Excellence sees overcoming the unresolved issues as a collaborative effort. “Transportation is not going to resolve this,” he said reminding the audience that many industries are also facing cyber and liability issues. “There’s a convergence occurring on how we’re going to get there.”

Panelists agreed that the safety implications of driverless vehicles are too profound to be held back by unresolved issues suggesting they will be fixed in legislation and regulation. “Safety is number one,” said Kornhauser. “Why is the private sector involved in all of this? It’s safety.” He added that reducing the number of fatalities in crashes from 40,000 deaths on America’s roads each year down to 4,000 will require advanced technology, but also questioned why car manufacturers are sending a mixed safety message. “My speedometer in my car shows 160 miles per hour. That’s irresponsible,” he said.

Transportation Infrastructure Security Suggested Practices

Cyber security is the elephant in any ITS room. At the opening day of GRIDSMART’s INTERSECT17 Rick Tiene, VP of Government and Critical Infrastructure at Mission Secure Inc. and Patrick Son, Managing Director of the National Operations Center of Excellence (NOCoE) brought the elephant out of the corner and into the open. In a session entitled Mission Secure: Transportation Infrastructure Security Suggested Practices, Tiene said, “We assume that the network is already violated. The questions is, what damage can it do?”

Son, whose agency is a non-profit trade association with the goal of advancing and sharing best practices in traffic systems management and operations (TSMO), pointed out that the threat and accompanying strategies for defeating the danger are not without precedent. “A lot of where the industry is going needs to mirror more established industries,” he said. “At some point, you’re going to be attacked. At some point your system is going to fail. How well you react is key.”

Before an audience of traffic engineers, equipment distributors and GRIDSMART partners, Mission Secure’s Tiene related how, during a recent table-top exercise to simulate a cyber-attack on an East Coast city, a participant’s computer was actually hacked. With the advances in transportation “The fact that they can get in is not fantasy at all,” he said.

Looming largest among the litany of threat concerns is the advent of driverless vehicles. “Add autonomous vehicles to the mix and the value of an attack goes up,” said Tiene. So how can the ITS industry and all its partners protect traffic and infrastructure into the future? NOCoE’s Son says at least two national initiatives to establish a cyber security framework are underway and could be ready for industry consumption in a little more than a year. One of those efforts is a collaboration between some of transportation’s most respected agencies including ITE, AASHTO, ITS America and others. But even before that release, Mission Secure’s Tiene defined a patent-pending strategy of monitoring systems for anomalies, detecting problems, informing operators of issues, correcting the issue and ultimately collecting data about the attack.

Tiene took a moment to reinforce that cyber attacks on departments of transportation are not hypothetical and have already happened. “People don’t want to broadcast it and luckily there hasn’t been huge damage,” he said. “They can’t go green-green, but they can do damage.”