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Smart road, smart car: the automated highway system.

... I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

- Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road"

Convoys of trucks moving along an automated highway - their distance from each other never varying, their speed never slacking, their course never wavering. ... Despite fitful fit·ful  
Occurring in or characterized by intermittent bursts, as of activity; irregular. See Synonyms at periodic.

 rain and heavy fog, the bus driver never peers uncertainly into the gloom but unhesitatingly follows roadmarkers, avoids obstacles, and maintains her lane and her speed. ... Platoons of cars follow each other at regular intervals. But when the progress of one car is halted by an emergency, the others smoothly, swiftly, simultaneously shift lanes. ... Automatic braking lets even those with mobility impairments drive cars.

That's the world of the Automated Highway System An automated highway system (AHS) or Smart Road is an advanced intelligent transportation system technology designed to provide for driverless cars on specific rights-of-way.  (AHS AHS Assistant House Surgeon. ). And it's coming soon.

The Vision

America is a nation of cars. But our reliance on cars and a rapidly aging highway infrastructure is compromising our safety, promoting congestion The condition of a network when there is not enough bandwidth to support the current traffic load.

congestion - When the offered load of a data communication path exceeds the capacity.
, sacrificing efficiency, and costing us money. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technologies - existing and proposed - offer the best solutions to a broad range of problems. An automated highway system, one which lets control information pass among vehicles and the infrastructure, will combine ITS technologies to maximize safety and efficiency and relieve congestion and associated costs. These technologies will probably include collision warning and avoidance devices, guidance devices, electronic brakes, electronically controlled steering, and other sensors to supplement - and ultimately, perhaps, replace - human driving judgment. The results will be more predictable arrival times; better use of existing roadways, saving the costs of constructing new highways; significant reduction in traffic accidents; conservation of energy resources; reduced travel times; and reduced traffic congestion (see Major AHS Goals).

It's only natural to assume that intelligent systems will be applied in the highway setting. Such systems are permeating per·me·ate  
v. per·me·at·ed, per·me·at·ing, per·me·ates
1. To spread or flow throughout; pervade: "Our thinking is permeated by our historical myths" 
 all aspects of our work and recreational activities. Also, many of these systems are now or will shortly be available on vehicles. But the AHS story is about much more than the inevitable march of technological progress. It's also a story of partnership and foresight (graphics, tool) Foresight - A software product from Nu Thena providing graphical modelling tools for high level system design and simulation. .

The Partnership

The AHS effort is a complex, multifaceted mul·ti·fac·et·ed  
Having many facets or aspects. See Synonyms at versatile.

Adj. 1. multifaceted - having many aspects; "a many-sided subject"; "a multifaceted undertaking"; "multifarious interests"; "the multifarious
 project. Its three phases - analysis, systems definition, and operational test and evaluation (testing) operational test and evaluation - (OT&E) Formal testing conducted prior to deployment to evaluate the operational effectiveness and suitability of the system with respect to its mission.  - span more than 10 years with widespread implementation to follow. The systems definition phase is carried out primarily through a consortium, the National Automated Highway System Consortium (NAHSC NAHSC National Automated Highway Systems Consortium
NAHSC National Association of Homes and Services for Children
NAHSC National Automated Highway System Consortium
), NAHSC is comprised of transportation stakeholders Stakeholders

All parties that have an interest, financial or otherwise, in a firm-stockholders, creditors, bondholders, employees, customers, management, the community, and the government.
 who have an inherent interest in transportation improvements: automotive manufacturers, infrastructure builders, and state/local transportation agencies, which are assisted by top-level academic transportation centers and engineering, communications, and aerospace firms.

Perhaps unique among government-initiated programs, the AHS project does not take a top-down approach Top-down approach

A method of security selection that starts with asset allocation and works systematically through sector and industry allocation to individual security selection.
 to its work. "We aren't the people providing the answers; we're helping define the issues," explains a Federal Highway Administration The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is a division of the United States Department of Transportation that specializes in highway transportation. The agency's major activities are grouped into two "programs," The Federal-aid Highway Program and the Federal Lands Highway  (FHWA FHWA Federal Highway Administration (US DoT) ) AHS project manager. A private sector consortium manager concurs, "DOT [the Department of Transportation] has been a very good partner to us. They don't come in thinking they have all the answers; instead, they come in very clearly representing the public interest." Conversely con·verse 1  
intr.v. con·versed, con·vers·ing, con·vers·es
1. To engage in a spoken exchange of thoughts, ideas, or feelings; talk. See Synonyms at speak.

, the consortium members "don't stand there, asking FHWA 'What do you want me to do with your money?'" This FHWA approach is consistent with the principles of total quality management that recognize the appropriateness and advantages of gaining the participation of stakeholders in defining program priorities and making decisions.

The Players

The AHS project is made up of three tiers of participants: core participants, associate participants, and outreach participants.

Including the U.S. government, there are 10 core participants. Each provides high-level expertise in various AHS technologies, program management know-how, and financial resources; each also contributes to the effort's credibility. Specific areas of expertise for the various partners follow:

* Bechtel - infrastructure and environment.

* Caltrans (California Department of Transportation The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is a government agency in the U.S. state of California. Its mission is to improve mobility across the state. It manages the state highway system and is actively involved with public transportation systems in California. ) - infrastructure development and highway operations.

* Carnegie-Mellon University - vehicle robotics robotics, science and technology of general purpose, programmable machine systems. Contrary to the popular fiction image of robots as ambulatory machines of human appearance capable of performing almost any task, most robotic systems are anchored to fixed positions .

* Delco Electronics
"Delco" redirects here. Delco may also be an abbreviation for Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

Delco Electronics Corporation was the automotive electronics design and manufacturing subsidiary of General Motors.
 - vehicle development.

* FHWA - federal sponsorship.

* General Motors - vehicle development.

* Hughes Aircraft Hughes Aircraft Company was a major aerospace and defense company founded by Howard Hughes. The group was based near Ballona Creek, in Culver City, California, USA, on the Pacific Coast.

Hughes Aircraft was acquired by General Motors in 1985.
 - communications and systems engineering.

* Lockheed Martin For the former company, see .

Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is a leading multinational aerospace manufacturer and advanced technology company formed in 1995 by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta.
 - system integration.

* Parsons Brinckerhoff Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) is a planning, engineering, program and construction management organization. The company has been involved in planning and designing some of the world's largest public works projects, such as Boston's Big Dig, Britain's rail system Network Rail;  - traffic engineering, societal and institutional research.

* The University of California The University of California has a combined student body of more than 191,000 students, over 1,340,000 living alumni, and a combined systemwide and campus endowment of just over $7.3 billion (8th largest in the United States).  Partners for Advanced Transit in Highways (PATH) Program - advanced vehicle control.

The core participants carry out and/or oversee the various tasks associated with the systems definition phase. This includes work toward the 1997 AHS demonstration, AHS concept definition and delineation, case study research, and societal and institutional issues research.

The work program and allocation of tasks are defined by consensus, as are all decisions. This is not an easy task. "Our monthly meetings are very messy," admits one consortium member. "There are lots of arguments, lots of discussion. But we always manage not to get stalled and to keep moving."

A contract team from Mitretek supports FHWA in its NAHSC work.

The 80-some associate participants form part of the project's broader foundation of support by representing various stakeholder stakeholder n. a person having in his/her possession (holding) money or property in which he/she has no interest, right or title, awaiting the outcome of a dispute between two or more claimants to the money or property.  groups:

* Vehicle industry.

* State/local government agencies.

* Highway design industry.

* Vehicle electronics industry.

* Environmental interests.

* Trucking operators.

* Transit operators.

* Transportation users.

* Insurance industry.

Associate participants support the goals of the program and become involved with the consortium on a voluntary' basis to share research results and/or provide stakeholder perspectives on intermediate results. New associates continue to join. Associates define their own level of activity and no financial commitment is required. They receive regular information and updates from the project, are invited to AHS workshops and forums, serve on ad hoc For this purpose. Meaning "to this" in Latin, it refers to dealing with special situations as they occur rather than functions that are repeated on a regular basis. See ad hoc query and ad hoc mode.  task forces, and are eligible to represent their particular stakeholder category on the NAHSC Program Management Oversight Committee. Representative associates include the American Association American Association refers to one of the following professional baseball leagues:
  • American Association (19th century), active from 1882 to 1891.
  • American Association (20th century), active from 1902 to 1962 and 1969 to 1997.
 of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Argonne National Laboratory Argonne National Laboratory, research center, based in Argonne, Ill., 27 mi (43 km) SW of downtown Chicago, with other facilities at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, 50 mi (80 km) W of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Founded in 1946 by the U.S. , California Highway Patrol highway patrol
A state law enforcement organization whose police officers patrol the public highways.
, Honda R&D North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. , HP Microsystems Inc., ITS America See ITS. , Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) was created in 1937 to construct, finance, operate and maintain the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The commission consists of five members. Four members are appointed by the Governor of Pennsylvania. , Robotic Technology Inc., South Coast Air Quality Management District The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), formed in 1976, is the air pollution agency responsible mainly for regulating stationary sources of air pollution for most of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside County, and all of Orange county. , Toyota Motor Corporation, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and U.S. Army Tank Automotive Armaments Command.

Outreach participants do not actively participate in program activities, but they receive consortium mailings and belong to stakeholder category groups.

The Status

Moving toward a national AHS is a slow, gradual process. Every step must be taken cautiously, carefully, to ensure best use of resources and optimal acceptance by potential users. Also, some of the supporting technology for AHS simply isn't available yet. Consequently, no one expects or even envisions AHS to be deployed on anything other than a highly selective basis in this century.
Table 1 - AHS Project Milestones

Date         Milestone/Activity

1991         ISTEA mandates development of a prototype AHS.
Dec. 1993    FHWA requests applications for an AHS consortium.
1993         15 precursor systems analysis contracts are let.
Dec. 1994    NAHSC is formed.
April 1995   First NAHSC Workshop
Oct. 1995    System Concepts Workshop
Nov. 1995    Milestone 1 document - NAHSC Program Plan and AHS
             System Objectives and Characteristics - is submitted
             to DOT.
May 1996     NAHSC Stakeholder Forum
June 1996    Groundbreaking for Technical Feasibility Demonstration
Nov. 1996    Concept Design Workshop
Aug. 1997    Proof of Technical Feasibility Demonstration
Nov. 1998    Concept Selection Workshop
Mar. 1999    AHS Concept Selection
June 1999    AHS Preliminary Design Workshop
Sept. 1999   Prototype Test Plan Workshop
Aug. 2001    Prototype Test Workshop
Dec. 2001    Prototype AHS Demonstration
2002-2006    Operational test and evaluation conducted at sites
             nation wide.

"We're having to sustain and believe in a vision for a project that's 20 years away," notes an FHWA manager involved in the AHS effort.

Numerous milestones help buoy belief and interest in the long-range project. Table 1 highlights key actions over the project's lifetime.

The Demonstration

One of the most eagerly awaited milestones in the AHS schedule is the August 1997 "proof of technical feasibility" system demonstration. This demo will fulfill the mandate of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (Public Law 102-240; ISTEA, pronounced Ice-Tea) is a United States federal law that posed a major change to transportation planning and policy, as the first U.S.  of 1991 (ISTEA ISTEA Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act
ISTEA Initial Screening Training Effectiveness Analysis
) and is going to show Congress, state and local governments, and the public at large that an automated highway system is both practicable and practical - that AHS is not some futuristic fu·tur·is·tic  
1. Of or relating to the future.

a. Of, characterized by, or expressing a vision of the future: futuristic decor.

 experiment, but a logical outgrowth of today's technologies and needs. Key state and local transportation officials and other leaders will be invited to experience automation as vehicle riders. The exposition will be open to all.

The demonstration will not unveil a prototype system. Instead, it will feature a broad array of the very latest and best in sensors and advanced vehicle-control technologies. Some of these will be demonstrated in a full-scale, live exhibition on a 12-kilometer segment of San Diego's Interstate 15 high-occupancy vehicle lanes This article or section may be confusing or unclear for some readers.
Please [improve the article] or discuss this issue on the talk page.
. At least 20 cars, light trucks, and construction and/or maintenance vehicles will drive this course. Other technologies will be displayed in booths, described in case studies, or presented in simulations.

The demo, then, is "a national stage - the only national stage" for NAHSC participants and other transportation industry members to show off their most useful and promising technologies. "This is the engine that's driving our work, that's bringing it all together," notes an FHWA manager. "It's going to be the most visible event for all of ITS next year."

The Concepts

The demonstration has, notes one manager, "forced us to refine our own thinking" about AHS. A parallel consortium activity - "down-selection" - is doing the same thing.

NAHSC began with some 30 possible concepts for an automated highway system; it now has five. This winnowing winnowing: see threshing. , or "down-selecting," process is neither an Olympic heat nor a swimsuit competition; the contenders aren't eliminated so much as blended with each other. The five current concept families (see The Five Concept Families) will be reduced to two or three by the winter of 1997. Gradually, a single preferred "right" AHS concept will emerge, and a prototype will be built.

The consortium's concepts of AHS span a spectrum from almost autonomous smart vehicles See automotive systems.  at the one end to smart vehicles and smart roads working in combination at the other. Down-selection is, like all of the AHS project, a slow process. That's because it too relies on input from multiple stakeholders. But the process works.

As a consortium manager notes: "We originally came up with six fuzzy fuzz·y  
adj. fuzz·i·er, fuzz·i·est
1. Covered with fuzz.

2. Of or resembling fuzz.

3. Not clear; indistinct: a fuzzy recollection of past events.

 families of approaches to AHS. Then last fall, in October, we had a workshop with about 100 stakeholder representatives. We explained the concept families, and we got some very clear indications from the people attending that we had not adequately defined what these concepts were. In fact, they pointed out that one wasn't even a separate concept. So we changed them. That's not a neat process at all, but we managed to capture what they wanted and folded it in."

So to keep the down-selection process honest, the consortium is actively bringing in stakeholders and interviewing them to assess such points as customer willingness to pay Willingness to pay (WTP) generally refers to the value of a good to a person as what they are willing to pay, sacrifice or exchange for it. See also
  • Becker-DeGroot-Marschak method
, marketability, deployment, and pricing. Associate participants are a major resource here. Above all, the consortium is trying to avoid the bugaboo that haunts most technological enterprises. "Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should, or that anyone will want it, or be able to afford it, or be able to use it," a consortium member observes.

The Investigation of Deployment Feasibility

A comprehensive set of institutional and societal analyses, begun early in the program, is yielding results in several areas. The results of the land use and air quality analyses and other investigations are shaping the guidelines for deployment of AHS with respect to: land use, an assessment of regional air quality improvements resulting from AHS implementation, guidelines for integrating AHS as a new capability into the transportation planning Transportation planning is the field involved with the siting of transportation facilities (generally streets, highways, sidewalks, bike lanes and public transport lines).  process, recommendations to optimize public/private roles in deployment and operations, assessment of AHS operations and maintenance impacts, recommended liability mitigation strategies, definition of the interaction of future AHS deployment with sustainable development Sustainable development is a socio-ecological process characterized by the fulfilment of human needs while maintaining the quality of the natural environment indefinitely. The linkage between environment and development was globally recognized in 1980, when the International Union , and a methodology for cost/benefit assessments of AHS concepts.

Investigations planned in the near-term include: a detailed assessment of user demand to provide a thorough assessment of market demand across various users, results of experiments and analysis focused on the optimum role of the human in the system, a preliminary assessment of social equity considerations raised by AHS deployment, and a detailed operational concept for automated bus transit operations with site-specific deployment opportunities.

A key aspect of the AHS concepts evaluation process is the program of site-specific case studies engaging state and local transportation agencies in joint efforts to examine the potential of AHS for their particular needs. These case studies address issues for specific regions, corridors, or users. The issues include the long-range planning processes to assess the viability of AHS (to include automated bus/van transit operations) relative to other transportation alternatives, possible institutional arrangements, potential impact on land use, safety, individual benefits, and overall benefits and costs in transportation productivity. To cover the full range of user groups, initial studies will focus on an urban corridor, a rural corridor, intercity in·ter·cit·y  
Relating to, involving, or connecting two or more cities: intercity rivalry; an intercity bus.


 travel, freight operations, and transit operations. Several preliminary case studies of these types will yield results in fiscal year 1997, and more extensive case studies will be initiated.

The Outreach

Outreach plays a critical role in all facets of the AHS project. Newsletters, stakeholder forums, workshops, focus groups, a home page on the World Wide Web (, white papers, press releases, coverage by broadcast and print media, booths at trade shows, and attendance at trade meetings and expositions are all mechanisms by which NAHSC gets its message out to, and solicits input from, its various audiences.

A particularly important outreach mechanism is representation on the Project Management Oversight Committee. Last May, a representative from each stakeholder category was elected to serve on this committee drawn from the pool of associate and outreach participants. This representation lets them bring their agendas to the table at the highest level.

NAHSC is also convening con·vene  
v. con·vened, con·ven·ing, con·venes

To come together usually for an official or public purpose; assemble formally.
 focus groups to determine how well the consortium is communicating its messages and how it can best respond to its audience's concerns. The focus groups have yielded some interesting findings. For example, state and local freeway operators sent strong messages to keep operational and maintenance costs resulting from AHS deployment to a minimum and to provide a clearer picture of the intermediate steps that will take us to future automated highways.

Outreach is a two-way street. Feedback must be solicited continually, and it must be heeded. "We take the core of the project very seriously," explains an NAHSC manager. "It's not only doing the technical work, which is relatively easy, but also trying to integrate societal issues while we're doing the technical work and continuing to build consensus among all the categories of stakeholders. It's an incredible process, but it's working."


The AHS program is designed to influence how an when vehicle-highway automation will be introduced. AHS deployment will be tailored to meet the needs of public, commercial, transit, and individual travelers in rural and urban communities. The major goals are to:

* Improve safety by significantly reducing:

- Fatalities. - Personal injury. - Pain and suffering. - Anxiety and stress of driving.

* Save money and optimize investment by:

- Maximizing efficiency of the existing infrastructure investment.

- Integrating other ITS services and architecture to achieve smooth traffic flow.

- Using available and near-term applied technology to avoid costs of conventional highway build-out.

- Developing affordable equipment, vehicles, infrastructure, operations, maintenance, and user fees.

- Closing the gap on predicted infrastructure needs.

- Using public/private partnerships for shared risk; using the National AHS Consortium as a global focal point focal point
See focus.
 to influence foreign deployment efforts.

- Reducing fuel consumption and costs, maintenance, wear-and-tear, labor costs, insurance costs, and property damage.

* Improve accessibility and mobility by:

- Improving employee on-time performance, resulting in a more effective work force.

- Facilitating "just-in-time" deliveries."

- Improving public transportation service, increasing customer access, and expanding service levels, resulting in increased revenue, reduced costs, and reduced accidents.

- Achieving a smooth traffic flow, reducing delays, travel times, travel time variability, and river stress.

- Making driving more accessible to less able drivers.

* Improve environmental efficiencies b:

- Reducing emissions per vehicle-mile traveled.

- Providing a solid base for reliable, lower cost transit.

- Providing an efficient base for electric-powered vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles Alternative fuel vehicle

Conventional fuels such as gasoline and diesel are gradually being replaced by alternative fuels such as gaseous fuels (natural gas and propane), alcohol (methanol and ethanol), and hydrogen.

* Create jobs by:

- Providing a stronger national economy and increasing global competitiveness.

- Increasing jobs in research and development and in early ITS deployment.

- Facilitating technology transfer (e.g., from military to civilian use).

- Creating new U.S. automotive products and new technology-based industry to compete in the international marketplace.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Five Concept Families

* Independent Vehicle Concept: This concept puts a smart vehicle in the existing infrastructure. In-vehicle technology lets the vehicle operate automatically with on-board On board usually means to be traveling on some vehicle. For example, Baby On Board. Compare with overboard.

Metaphorically, the term on-board is often used to refer to some piece of technology that is integrated in a moving vehicle, for example:
 sensors and computers. The vehicle can use data from roadside systems but does not depend on infrastructure support.

* Cooperative Concept: This concept lets smart vehicles communicate with each other, although not with the infrastructure. With on-board radar, vision, and other sensors, these AHS-equipped vehicles will be able to communicate with each other and coordinate their driving operations, thereby achieving best throughput and safety.

* Infrastructure-Supported Concept: A smart infrastructure can greatly improve the quality of AHS services and better integrate AHS with local transportation networks. This concept envisions automated vehicles in dedicated lanes using global information and two-way communication Two-way communication is a form of transmission in which both parties involved transmit information. Common forms of two-way communication are:
  • In-person communication
  • Telephone conversations
  • Amateur, CB or FRS radio contacts
  • Computer networks . See back-channel.
 with the smart infrastructure to support vehicle decision-making and operation.

* Infrastructure-Assisted Concept: In this concept, the automated roadside system provides inter-vehicle coordination during entry, exit, merging, and emergencies. This concept may provide the greatest throughput benefit; it also may require the greatest civil infrastructure investment.

* Adaptable Concept: This concept acknowledges the fact that AHS implementation will vary by locality 1. locality - In sequential architectures programs tend to access data that has been accessed recently (temporal locality) or that is at an address near recently referenced data (spatial locality). This is the basis for the speed-up obtained with a cache memory.
. It envisions the development of a wide range of compatible standards that leave as many of the specific architecture decisions, solutions, and deployment progressions as possible to area stakeholders.

Nita Congress is a senior writer and editor with vast experience in preparing a wide variety of informational and technical materials for the federal government. She has served as a technical editor for Public Roads since 1985 and has frequently contributed articles to this magazine. In addition, she has written several FHWA research and development annual reports, and she has documented numerous FHWA-sponsored conferences and workshops. She recently served as senior editor to Vice President Al Gore's Reinventing Government Task Force.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Superintendent of Documents
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Congress, Nita
Publication:Public Roads
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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