MDOT's Play for Connected Vehicles in Work Zones

Today we had a great meeting for stakeholders in the upcoming I-275 Project in Michigan. MDOT has graciously opened up the high profile work zone for private industry to test new devices, services and technologies. Michele Mueller is heading it up, and her leadership experience with the agency and World ITS Congress back in 2014 certainly shows. While MDOT collects basic information about all their work zones - through the traditional paper forms and phone calls I suspect - they instead want collect high frequency, "high resolution" data on this project and share it with auto makers, ITS component manufacturers, and various other third parties that may be interested in creating apps and other services for smart phones. There was also a big mention about deploying DSRC radios to share real-time information to vehicles who can receive and decipher it. I found this curious, as the latest information I have is that the protocol might be completed on paper, but they have yet to tackle any security or privacy concerns. Hopefully motorists privacy won't be an afterthought when DSRC finally hits the streets.

This project is presented as a great opportunity to test the latest tech in a live environment. No amount of simulations or dry-runs or "parking lot testing" can hold a candle to what the real world will throw at you. It is great that MDOT has stepped up to the plate and is actively pursuing vendors to come in and have a dialogue. Michele made a big push towards the vendors working with each other to accomplish a cohesive goal. The project begins in April of this year, so in a sense it's lighting a fire under the private sector to get moving and get some devices on the road - pronto.

It's also interesting how MDOT approached the project with the private sector. They issued a "Request for Partnership", something I have never heard of in my decade of working with government agencies. It's very atypical in the Transportation industry to see this, though I understand other sectors of government have had success with them in the past. It shows that the DOT is really trying to get ahead of the connected vehicles and autonomous vehicles that will soon be populating our roadways.

With the disappointing lack of leadership in the workzone arena regarding the intelligent vehicles of tomorrow, this is a breath of fresh air. We as an industry need to keep on the powers that be, both on a state and federal level, to be mindful of work zones when creating drafts and first-rounds of legislation that will govern our autonomous transportation future. I know ATSSA has quite a few concerns about the current direction auto manufacturers are taking when considering work zones. Anyone who has worn a vest and worked on the road themselves shares these concerns (including yours truly).

So a tip of the hat to MDOT for grabbing the reins and addressing the future. Hopefully this can be the first of many DOT's to begin these pilot projects so we can, as an industry, iron out the bugs proactively, instead of having to having to quickly react when the first autonomous vehicles start entering our work zones.