To a room filled with students, professors, stakeholders, and those interested in the future of mobility, Kirk Steudle said, “You are involved in the changing of an ecosystem that will dramatically impact the way people and goods move around this country.”
It’s a bold statement, and one that extends far beyond how a future vehicle, sensor, or infrastructure will change to birth a world of mobility. The concept addresses a human-centered, systems-level approach to meeting our mobility needs in a way that makes sense for everyone, with safety and efficiency at its core. And that change is already underway.
Steudle’s speech launched the LTU President’s Symposium, held each year during the university’s homecoming week. A Lawrence Technological University alumnus, LTU College of Engineering hall of famer, and retired longtime director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, Steudle served as moderator for the event, which included a panel discussion as well as presentations from Carla Bailo, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Mark Chaput, vice president of facility operations and construction for the American Center for Mobility (ACM) in Ypsilanti, Alisyn Malek, chief operating officer and co-founder of Ann Arbor’s May Mobility, Douglas Patton, senior technical advisor of DENSO International America, and Jeremy Tuggle, engineering manager for Systems Engineering, Integration & Test, Chassis & Safety with Continental.
In keeping with the forward-looking platform of the LTU President’s Symposium, held each year during the university’s homecoming week, the evening was devoted to “Accessibility, Mobility and Connectivity: The Edge of Future Transportation Systems” and the event coincided with Mobility Week Detroit.
The democratization of mobility, where safe, efficient, affordable transportation is available to all, creates ladders of opportunity for people to access education and work, says Bailo, who also recognizes Steudle’s work at MDOT.
“He has worked to put Michigan first, and we are leading all the 50 states with some of the things we are doing on the roadways today,” she says.
Acknowledging the concentration of automotive expertise in southeast Michigan in particular, Mark Chaput from ACM says it makes absolute sense for Detroit to be the global leader in mobility.
“Why Michigan and why now?” he asks. “Here we have the most mobility assets and the greatest density of infrastructure, with 90,000 engineers working in Michigan.”
Safety, efficiency, affordability
Through research carried out at CAR and other organizations, stakeholders can leverage the sustainability of the mobility community here in Michigan while focusing on what Bailo calls the triple zero.
“Zero accidents and fatalities, zero carbon footprint, and zero stress,” she says. “Globally 1.2 million people are killed on roads each year. Why do we need to fix this problem? That is it.”
Carbon footprint is not just about fuel economy, a concern for consumers and manufacturers alike, but about the lifecycle of a product, from assembly through use to end of life.
“Stress is certainly about the human in the car, but also about congestion and the vulnerable users of the road, both sides that we need to think about,” she says.
While advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) help reduce accidents and are now being installed on entry level vehicles rather than solely on premium models, 65 percent of users simply switch them off.
“They are annoyed by the beeping,” says Bailo. “We need to do a better job educating during the entire purchase cycle” to underscore the relevance of the human-machine interface.
If the answer lies in connected technology, with a move forward to full self-driving vehicles, consumers and manufacturers want to know their vehicles are safe. For advanced testing, a traditional proving ground, designed for single vehicle tests, won’t do the job, says Chaput.
Connected and autonomous vehicles require the advanced capabilities of next generation test facilities like the American Center for Mobility. A combination of robust controlled track testing, simulation, and on-road testing is already taking place at ACM, says Chaput, who, like Steudle, earned a degree from LTU. Here, CAVs can interact with large amounts of vehicles, a variety of road users, and real-world infrastructure to ensure safety and reliability.
“The future is multimodal”
But the adoption of mobility requires more than rigorous testing. Critical to success is a systems-level, multimodal approach, says Malek of May Mobility, a startup that already has low-speed, electric, autonomous shuttles on the streets of Detroit.
“It’s not about the technology. It’s about the people,” she says. “If we follow people, they are headed into cities. So we are designing technology and solutions that can impact the largest number of people, and designing for cities offers the broadest impact.”
While cities are complex systems, transportation solutions don’t always have to be complex. Individuals in personal vehicles contribute to congestion that could be reduced and eliminated by a multimodal approach.
“How can we simplify our transportation system and create the fewest units to move the most people?” Malek asks. “If we adopt systems-level thinking, we recognize that our streets can support more, not fewer people. We need to think beyond the car to shuttles, scooters, and bikes.”
Jeremy Tuggle from Continental paints a similar picture of seamless mobility and the elimination of road fatalities caused by human error. He shares a vision of electrified personal or shared autonomous vehicles that can connect and platoon, for maximum efficiency, plus pick up and deliver packages in an urban setting.
“A user can call a ride through an app, the self-driving taxi arrives, the user has an enjoyable ride to the final location,” he says. “It must be affordable and efficient.”
But recognizing the unique landscape of the U.S., he also shares a concept of operational duality. In this scenario, a privately owned vehicle would be driven by an individual from home to an expressway, where it would invoke a “cruising chauffeur,” and travel on operational domain on its own.
At the end of the expressway, the driver can take over, or, the vehicle can end operation safely by parking autonomously. In this scenario, vehicles are not allowed in the center of the city, so the vehicle drops off the user, who can then connect with another form of last-mile transit, while the car simply drives off and finds a space to park.
“Urbanization is a megatrend, and mobility can create a blur between the city and country,” says Tuggle.
Efficiency, safety, and affordability are all motivating forces for the adoption of transportation autonomy. But ultimately, why do we care about the future of mobility?
“It’s about life outcomes,” says Malek. “Autonomous vehicles can stop people from driving drunk, drowsy, or distracted. We have the power to stop this. And we can make transportation more accessible through systems-level thinking.”