Autonomous Vehicles Coming to San Jose

By Ruth Cox

Ruth Cox is the CEO of ProspectSV, a cleantech innovation hub, where she is an expert in mobility and is passionate about building an economy based on clean technology.

Sep 28, 2017 | Mobility | 1 comment


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In the last several years, San Jose has become a forerunner for smart city initiatives, sustainable technology, and automated driving. Mayor Sam Liccardo launched a smart city vision early in his tenure, and in January as a part of this effort the City of San Jose kicked off a new autonomous vehicle (AV) pilot program. They released a Request for Information announcing their invitation for AV concept submissions. Working alongside the city is Prospect Silicon Valley (ProspectSV), a non-profit innovation hub focused on bringing clean technology to urban communities. ProspectSV is participating in the assessment and choice of pilot technologies, is aiding in the coordination of major stakeholder groups, and will work with selected teams to ensure smooth deployment of the projects. As the city expands its multi-modal transportation infrastructure, this program will play a pivotal role in their efforts to alleviate traffic congestion on city roadways and deliver more transportation options to underserved communities.

What can we expect with autonomous vehicles?

As AV technology is developing at an accelerated pace, so has the understanding of how this technology can be applied and the business models that will encourage its adoption. Data and testing have shown that AVs will make the road safer for its citizens, improve traffic congestion, and create efficient ways of moving people from place to place. The data from the pilot will create an opportunity to learn about traffic behaviors and bring insight to how these technologies and service models can be deployed more broadly.

More and more companies are joining the race to deliver technologies for advanced mobility solutions and we are seeing AVs being tested in communities across the country. Kevin O’Connor, Assistant Director of Transportation for the City of San Jose stated, “we really want to push the envelope in allowing them to test and operate.” Deployment in cities like San Jose, which has a relatively strong safety record, is a good environment for testing these vehicles and slowly integrating them into the public transportation infrastructure. As they are deployed onto the roadways, the city will gather key data to aid in the planning for broad scale adoption. How many passengers are they carrying? Where are the vehicles going?  How are traffic patterns impacted?  What are the public safety ramifications?  These are just some of the questions that will be answered as a result of piloting AVs.

What benefits will come to San Jose as a result of this pilot?

Although the City of San Jose project team is still evaluating the proposal submissions, we can definitely expect to see autonomous shuttles and cars on the roadway within a year. These vehicles will provide easier access to public transportation (first-last mile connections), access for people with disabilities, services for disadvantaged communities, and improved efficiency in serving heavily trafficked routes.  So far, the City of San Jose is very pleased with the range of technologies that have been proposed, and are optimistic with how they can advance San Jose’s smart city vision.

What else do we know about the development of AVs?

Rest assured, safety is the number one priority. At ProspectSV’s annual Innovation & Impact Symposium, the “Focus on Autonomous Vehicle” panel unanimously agreed that safety is the leading concern for automotive manufacturers. “There’s no company out there that’s not taking safety seriously,” said Lutz Eckstein, Founder of the Board at the German automotive research company, fka. And since radar and LIDAR technologies have the capability to enable split second decisions faster than a human driver, the accuracy of these technologies has to be perfected to a tee.

This is just the beginning for AVs. As the City of San Jose’s pilot program is launched into action, the opportunities to impact the quality of life in our communities through advanced transportation solutions are endless. Connected and AV technologies, along with new, flexible business models, are creating a new future for mobility, and the future is right around the corner. Adoption of these technologies will enable urban areas to become smarter… and smarter means healthier, more vibrant communities for generations to come.

Discussion

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Ruth, thanks for outlining ProspectSV’s role in helping the City of San Jose advance autonomous vehicles. There’s so much to explore on this topic! You mention new flexible business models – do you have an example of one being used or tested? Is Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) something you’re seeing gain traction? Also, do you know if any of the companies you’re encountering are also developing technologies to improve current vehicles, i.e. those still operated by human drivers? There’s going to be quite a few years yet before automation can start proving the big claims on road safety. We’ll still need continuous improvements on existing vehicle types to bridge the gap in the meantime.

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