How Emerging Technologies Can Help in Crisis Response

Welcome back to the ITS and You blog! This month, let’s jump right into discussing one of our new research areas, Emerging and Enabling Technologies. This program is about keeping America at the forefront of advancements in transportation technology. We want to make sure that we stay ahead of the curve in tracking and assessing promising innovative or disruptive technologies for our transportation systems, particularly those that offer the greatest benefits to you—the public.

CV Emergency VehicleSo, what are some of the technologies we’re looking at? Right now, connectivity and communication are essential for our transportation system to continue to advance in this digital age. Thus, we are exploring next-generation communications technologies—such as cellular-vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X), 5G, and even 6G—that could enable our vehicles and infrastructure to exchange information and cooperate in navigating the roads more safely and efficiently. During emergencies, these communications play an important role in enabling the public safety community to respond faster to incidents, while also ensuring their own safety. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission has allowed the wireless spectrum allocated for such transportation communications to be shared temporarily with wireless Internet service providers to meet the demands of at-home education and telework. The U.S. DOT supports keeping the safety band free of interference, so we are monitoring the technical impacts of sharing with our existing V2X deployments and how the spectrum will be returned to transportation use as the nation reopens. I encourage you to read further about this, and our other spectrum testing, on the U.S. DOT Safety Band web page.

AI imageWe are also exploring the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, particularly in their ability to offer new ways to collect and analyze data, allowing us to better and more rapidly understand shifts in travel patterns and modes. For example, public transit and on-demand transportation providers (e.g., paratransit, rideshare) have experienced a dramatic decrease in ridership and revenues due to COVID-19. Travelers are more reluctant to use public transportation and other shared modes due to social distancing concerns. Understanding this trend is essential to improving transportation service availability post-pandemic to enable economic recovery. AI technologies can help plan for and potentially mitigate such impacts and offer us better tools to maintain safe operations during periods of crisis or change.

The need for increased social distancing is also drastically changing the mobility environment for people with visual, hearing, cognitive, and mobility disabilities. For example, current pandemic guidelines to avoid unnecessary touching of the physical environment and reduce instances of close personal contact don’t align with the need to provide customized traveler information via personal devices in multiple forms (audible, visual, and haptic) or with traditional service animal training requirements. We are exploring ITS technologies that can help overcome some of these challenges for people with disabilities.

ATTRI Smart Street Crossing

Supporting transportation connectivity and enabling cooperative ITS and automated forms of transportation can yield tremendous benefits. We are excited to begin examining and testing technologies to ensure our nation’s transportations system continues to advance well into the future.

Ken Leonard
ITS JPO Director

Posted 6/10/20