How transportation fits into Smart Cities, ORAU Annual Meeting Day 2
Innovative transportation technologies will improve cities, increase safety on America’s roads and, perhaps most importantly, create better access for vulnerable populations.
“Smart Cities are never simply about the best technology, the most advanced data gathering or the most consummate artificial intelligence. They are about communities themselves and how technology serves citizens in a democracy; rich and poor, all races and creeds, and certainly the most vulnerable among us,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, deputy assistant secretary for research and technology at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Furchtgott-Roth was the keynote speaker on Wednesday, March 11 at the 75th annual meeting of the ORAU Council of Sponsoring Institutions at Hilton Knoxville Airport in Alcoa, Tennessee. “Smart Cities and Communities” was the meeting theme.
She paraphrased the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s famous quote about the moral test of government by replacing the word government with technology: “The moral test of technology is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
“Communities are bound together by a sense of fairness that everyone can enjoy the benefits of knowledge secured by universities and research centers such as yours,” she said, referring both to ORAU and our university partners.
The U.S. Department of Transportation launched a Smart City Challenge in December 2015, asking mid-sized cities across the country to develop integrated smart transportation systems that would use data, applications and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply and efficiently. Since then, USDOT has focused on the following:
- Improving safety by using advance technologies such as connected vehicle technologies to reduce collisions, injuries, fatalities and crashes for vehicle occupants and non-occupants
- Enhance mobility by providing better mobility services and real-time travel information for all, including people with low incomes, the disabled and older adults.
- Enhance ladders of opportunity by helping underserved communities access advance technology to promote employment and education and improve local communities.
Mobility for vulnerable populations, particularly older adults, is of particular importance, Furchtgott-Roth said. She cited U.S. Census Bureau estimates that indicate by 2035 adults over age 65 will outnumber children under age 18 for the first time in history.
The DOT recently launched a number initiatives focused on technology to help the elderly, especially those in underserved communities and rural populations, including $50 million in new initiatives to expand transportation access for people with disabilities, older adults and low-income individuals. The purpose is to provide more efficient and affordable transportation, like complete trip systems that get individuals from point A to point B seamlessly, regardless of modes and transfers. Other initiatives include the development of accessible self-driving vehicles; enhancing transportation connection to jobs, education and health services; and opening four new university transportation research centers.
Connected vehicle technology is also important, particularly from a safety perspective. Furchtgott-Roth discussed the band of the wireless broadband spectrum (5.9 megahertz) that has been set aside by the Federal Communication Commission for intelligent transportation systems and traffic safety, which are at the core of smart cities.
“Many of the new innovative technologies rely on wireless communications, a trend consistent with technology in our everyday lives,” she said.
For these technologies to work in transportation, they have to meet the unique needs of a transportation environment—rapidly moving and out of line of sight vehicles, as well as pedestrians, cyclists and other road users; they need to account for the potential of radio interference, and they need to address security.
She said improving transportation connectivity will increase safety and reduce the 37,000 fatalities and 2.7 million injuries on our roads every year. Reducing fatalities by 5% in one year will save $18 billion in just a year. A pilot project underway at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would allow emergency vehicles to change traffic signals as they race to the scene of an emergency.
Furchtgott-Roth added that USDOT is technology neutral, encouraging researchers to experiment with technologies they think might work, and to be fearless in pursuing innovation.