Michigan looks to expand connected work zone pilot program in preparation for autonomous vehicles

Following the successful testing of the nation’s first connected work zone pilot program last year, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) says it would like to expand the program to surface streets and county roads in communities across the state to build a large database for vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.

During a panel discussion at AutoMobili-D at the 2018 North American International Auto Show this week, MDOT Director Kirk Steudle said the original pilot, which took place on three miles of freeway in Oakland County in the summer, was a big step forward in the race for autonomous and connected vehicle development in Michigan. In partnership with 3M and Magna International, the test area was outfitted with advanced all-weather lane markings, retroreflective signs with barcodes and dedicated short-range communication devices for communications. Test vehicles used infrared cameras and software technology to read the barcodes and relay safety information back to the vehicle.

With more than 35,000 fatalities occurring on U.S. highways each year, roadway safety remains one of the most challenging issues facing Michigan, Steudle said, adding that driver behavior factors into nearly 90 percent of all fatal crashes.

“From a safety perspective, this technology is huge opportunity to improve our roadways,” said Gary Piotrowicz, deputy managing director of the Oakland County Road Commission.

Drivers today see a sign indicating a lane is closed ahead. They read the sign, interpret it and change lanes when they choose. With this new technology, vehicles also receive a lane closure notification from a smart sign and notify the driver to react appropriately. Or in the case of autonomous vehicles, the vehicle would automatically slow down, Steudle said.

Tom Toma, global product manager for Magna International, said connected work zones are just the tip of the iceberg and with the proliferation of new technology, getting information in front of drivers quickly and easily is essential to improving safety on roads across the world.

While the pilot is still years away from full implementation, Toma said the advantages to OEMs that adopt the technology are limited only by the imagination.

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