Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – After years of talking about it, the time is now for deploying intelligent-vehicle technology widely, says the Michigan Dept. of Transportation’s top official.

“It’s time to deploy, it’s time to do it, no more talking about it,” Kirk T. Steudle, director-MDOT, says at the 2009 Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here.

Every eight hours, someone is killed in a car accident on Michigan roads, equaling three deaths a day. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s IntelliDrive system, a suite of safety and mobility technologies, can help lessen deaths resulting from these crashes, Steudle says.

MDOT is partnering with the USDOT on IntelliDrive, which aims to equip vehicles with the ability to wirelessly communicate with each other, and with infrastructure and hand-held communication devices, on the location and proximity of road construction.

The intelligent-vehicle technologies also may someday take over operation of vehicle steering and braking in imminent crash situations.

However, the poor economy is putting a crimp in the program’s rollout.

Federal stimulus money initially was available only for shovel-ready road projects, although MDOT was able to add electric message boards that notify of crashes as part of IntelliDrive, Steudle says.

But now the USDOT has $1.5 billion in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants MDOT is seeking to further IntelliDrive’s reach. Southeast Michigan could be the “Silicon Valley” of intelligent-transportation technology, Steudle says.

“We do have a significant project that would ask for advancement of where we are with IntelliDrive,” he says of the grants, which have a per-state maximum of $300 million.

“(The project has) private partners, public partners, university partners, and we’re attempting to make it multi-state (in the Midwest). But I don’t know if we’ll get that done because of the time frame.”

Applications are being accepted for the TIGER grants through mid-September, with awards to be handed out no later than February, the USDOT’s website says.

A CAR study has yielded preliminary information finding that industry officials want to see the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. mandate intelligent-vehicle technology as safety technology, and provide incentives for manufacturers to add the technology to new vehicles.

The USDOT’s Mike Schagrin, project leader for IntelliDrive, says the system would add $200 or less per new vehicle, less costly than other safety technologies such as “couple-thousand-dollar” lane-departure warning systems already appearing on luxury vehicles.

“There certainly is a market for this, and if we could get some traction, the cost would be substantially lower than it would be for these other high-priced systems,” Schagrin says.

Steudle says IntelliDrive and other intelligent transportation systems’ technologies save money. However, one or two so-called smart traffic signals cannot save as much as a whole network.

“Then you can allow traffic to flow more smoothly and avoid the stopping and starting,” he says. “You get huge benefits in congestion-related issues and greenhouse-gas emissions, because you don’t have cars idling at a stoplight.

“As a person who has to stand in front of a legislature and defend your budget, they’re tough to defend,” Steudle admits of ITS technology, adding many people see one road sign warning of an accident and are nonplused.

Steudle says MDOT is targeting 2014 for IntelliDrive to be “real to customers,” and Schagrin says 2013 is when the USDOT will make a decision on whether to go into a “rule-making phase” on IntelliDrive deployment.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com