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Self-driving Cars Could Have Their Own ‘Hyperlane' in the Future

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【Summary】A unique way cities can cater to self-driving units without heavily shaking up the current transportation system is through the use of segregated, special lanes on roads. This solution was presented by Anthony Barrs and Baiyu Chen during the Infrastructure Vision 2050 Challenge.

Michael Cheng    Mar 10, 2017 4:50 PM PT
Self-driving Cars Could Have Their Own ‘Hyperlane' in the Future

Automakers, startups and other key players in the driverless sector seem to have different plans for the deployment of self-driving cars. Some see the vehicles being used with smart roads and toll systems that only allow autonomous vessels on such paths during rush hour. On the development side, companies, including Ford, are in talks about skipping SAE-L3 and going straight to SAE-L4.

All of these solutions are designed to ease the introduction of the technology for mainstream consumers. Another unique way cities can cater to self-driving units without heavily shaking up the current transportation system is through the use of segregated, special lanes on roads. This solution was presented by Anthony Barrs and Baiyu Chen (UC Berkeley graduate students) during the Infrastructure Vision 2050 Challenge.

The group won $50,000 for the project and will use the money to create strategic partnerships within the emerging industry.

Speed Lanes for Driverless Cars

Barrs and Chen displayed their project at the event, which was hosted by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers in Las Vegas. The duo proposed the deployment of a "Hyperlane" that runs parallel to existing roadways for SAE-L1 vehicles. This path could be as wide as four interstate lanes and will host a myriad of robust sensors that monitor passing cars. Of course, only autonomous cars will be allowed to use the unique lanes, as they will likely be traveling extremely fast. The UC Berkeley students see their project coming to fruition by 2050.

To keep the lanes fully operational, the roadways may require payment during use. The team was inspired by Japan's high-speed rail system, which is used by bullet trains to reach far-flung destinations. This design was incorporated in the "Hyperlane" along with the high-speed feature that the vehicles will be traveling in.

"We were inspired by high-speed rail in Japan," Barrs said in an interview with Fortune. "We realized we couldn't exactly do that in America, so we started to deconstruct the high-speed rail experience and that's when we realized we could remove the tracks and deploy new, emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles."

Addressing Trust and Skeptics

Why go through all the trouble of creating a separate lane for self-driving cars? At the moment, auto companies can't fully predict how human drivers will react and interact with driverless vehicles. In the past few years, several surveys have shown that people either aren't educated enough about autonomous vehicular technology or they simply don't trust the platforms that power them.

A separate "Hyperlane" could ease this transitional period between human-driven cars and fully autonomous vehicles. In other words, the more residents are exposed to the technology – even if they aren't directly interacting with cars that carry them, but are able to observe the vessels in action – the faster self-driving businesses can win-over skeptical drivers.

"We are elated, very, very excited," said Barrs. "We've been working on this for over a year and I think that having the folks at this conference recognize that this is a viable path forward and something that we should pursue and it's really validating."

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