Autonomous Vehicles: Testing & Tech

The THIRD annual Northeast Connected and Automated Vehicle Summit is set to take place June 12 & 13th, 2019 at the Hilton Hotel located at 315 Trumbull Street in Hartford, CT. This event is hosted by the Federal Highway Administration, Connecticut Department of Transportation and the University of Connecticut. Professionals from all areas of transportation are invited to attend this event.


Visit the summit website for more information

In 2017, I provided an overview of all the available information I could find pertaining to the manufacturing, legislation, and utilization of autonomous vehicles or AVs (read more about that here). I promised to keep you updated on any new developments in the field and I’m making good on that promise. Several changes have occurred in the world of connected and automated driving systems (CADS) since my last post. New guidelines and legislation have been introduced nationwide. There has also been an increase in the number of testing sites as well as the frequency of testing of these vehicles. Let’s break down some of the most recent and significant changes of CADS, starting with technology and testing.


For decades, transportation safety professionals have reported human error as the single greatest cause of motor vehicle crashes (94%) (7, 8). The World Health Organization recently reported that almost 1.5 million people die annually in traffic crashes and that injuries incurred in crashes are the leading cause of death for children and adults between 5-29 years old. Common driver errors include issues with recognition and depth perception, distracted driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and speeding (9). A third of surveyed automotive companies stated that CADS are a key element of their companies’ visions for the future and the same proportion listed increased safety needs as one of the top three reasons for the push in technology innovation (5). 

GPS navigation is probably the most common and often used advanced vehicle technology system. Arguably one of the most useful tools to come out of the advancements in AV technology, in-vehicle GPS navigation was first introduced in 1930 with the Iter Avto (3). Since it’s initial design, the modern car GPS has advanced to include voice commands, live traffic updates and route choices based on travel time, distance or avoidance of tolls and highways. Other mainstream CADS include tire pressure monitoring, adaptive cruise control and adaptive light control such as daytime running lights.

1930 Iter Avto

1930s Iter Avto – The first in-vehicle navigation system (6)

Automakers are taking every advantage possible to incorporate this new driver assist technology into their vehicles. Automatic parking and braking is featured on some luxury brands such as Tesla and BMW but are also available on more affordable vehicle models manufactured by Toyota, Ford and Hyundai. Mercedes will be offering a new SAE Level 3 (read about SAE levels here) model for their S-Class luxury sedans in 2020 (10). Similar to automatic braking, hill descent control was created to ease the pressure of descending steep inclines by using automatic braking to slow the vehicle. This feature may be beneficial to residents of states with more mountainous terrain, like California and Colorado. A less reliable feature, in my opinion, is intelligent speed adaptation because of it’s dependence upon a variety of information to work accurately. This CADS is not able to function as efficiently in some rural areas and other remote locations because of the lack of available posted speed limit signs.

Advancements in smart sensor technology and automotive system infrastructures have allowed for better vehicle lighting systems such as night vision. Slightly different from previous versions of high beam lights on vehicles, night vision systems are high beams that work automatically using infrared light or thermal energy (4). Among the top recent trends in CADS is “advances in touchscreen technology help ensure easier interaction” with vehicle occupants when in park. Some advanced human machine interface (HMI) technologies use eye-tracking and head-up displays on dashboards to maintain drivers focus and reduce distracted driving (9).

Additional advanced automotive features include (4):

  • blind spot detection,
  • collision avoidance systems,
  • driver drowsiness detection, and
  • lane departure warning


Several states have begun deploying autonomous shuttles and ride-share vehicles as part of pilot programs in urban areas. According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority board of directors cast a unanimous vote in 2017 to approve an AV test track pilot. Becoming fully operational that fall, the test track serves as a reliable and safe location to run various tests and demonstrations on multiple AV systems. Expanding upon this, the city received a $12.5 million federal grant to build the ‘Innovation Corridor’, an intelligent transportation system that extends safety beyond just transportation, in downtown Jacksonville (2). Ann Arbor, Michigan has been named “The New Motor City” by the NYT because of the University of Michigan’s extensive work to make the city a hub for autonomous vehicle testing Toyota has set up an AV research institute on the University of Michigan campus and Ford allotted $15 million up for the creation of the ‘Ford Motor Company Robotics Building’. 

Aptiv, the automotive company formally known as Delphi, has partnered with rideshare company Lyft to deploy AVs in Las Vegas. The project entails the incorporation of a fleet of 75 modified BMW 5 Series sedans into Lyft’s fleet. According to the company, the system is currently designed to operate in 1,600 destinations in Clark County, Nevada. Similar pilots are also taking place in Phoenix, Providence, and Boston, with the city affirming their vision for the transportation future as “Zero deaths. Zero injuries. Zero disparities. Zero emissions. Zero stress” (11,12). All the vehicles included in these programs have set parameters under which they can operate. Typical restrictions include are reduced maximum speed (i.e., 25 mph), restricted designated area, and some programs include a human driver who assists or take over the vehicle at any time during the route if necessary.

Drive_ai cars.PNG Self-Driving Nissan NV200 vans, (7), a small startup that builds artificially intelligent technology for autonomous vehicles, launched a similar pilot to Aptiv using their own vehicles. Beginning first in the Dallas suburb of Frisco in August 2018, a second pilot was also launched in Arlington, Texas late last year. The service is free and open to the general public, who can request rides from the mobile app or from service kiosks located strategically throughout the service area. Recently, news articles have discussed Apple’s interest in purchasing Apple is heavily involved in CADS and technology so if a deal is made, it will be interesting to see how this company evolves under Apple ownership (1, 6).

These are just a few of the most recent changes and additions to advanced driver systems. Next month’s Drivers Behaving Badly post will cover public opinion surrounding CADs, and any updates to legislation and federal and state regulations. Join us as this year’s Northeast Connected and Automated Vehicle Summit on June 12 & 13th in Hartford, CT.


  1. Locklear, M. (2018, Jul 30). Drive. ai’s autonomous ride-hailing service is now operating in Texas. Retrieved on June 7, 2019.
  2. Robinson, W. (2019, Mar 28). Smart transportation system in the works for downtown Jacksonville. Retrieved on June 7, 2019.
  3. Pedro Leite, J. (2018, April 9). A Brief History of GPS In-Car Navigation. Retrieved on June 7, 2019.
  4. Laukkonen, J. (2019, June 3). Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. Retrieved on June 7, 2019.
  5. Ricketts, S. (2019, Mar 5). What’s Next for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems? Retrieved on June 7, 2019.
  6. (2019).
  7. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2019).
  8. World Health Organization. (2018, Dec 7). Road traffic injuries. Retrieved on June 10, 2019.
  9. Evanczuk, S. (2019). Top 5 Tech Trends in Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. Retrieved on June 10, 2019.
  10. Gustafson, S. (2018, Oct 11). Next Mercedes-Benz S-Class will get Level 3 self-driving. Retrieved on June 10, 2019.
  11. City of Boston. (2019, June 7). Autonomous Vehicles: Boston’s Approach. Retrieved on June 10, 2019.
  12. Hyatt, K. (2019, May 14). Providence will get its first publicly available self-driving shuttle, report says. Retrieved on June 10, 2019.

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