A “driverless” car, also known as an autonomous, self-driving or robotic car, is a vehicle capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Such vehicles can detect their surroundings using a variety of techniques such as radar, lidar, GPS, odometry and computer vision. Some of the technology behind driverless cars dates back to the '20s and '30s, while the first truly self-sufficient cars appeared in the '80s.
Benefits of autonomous cars could include less traffic collisions and injuries, less need for insurance, increases in traffic flow, driver relief from navigation chores, lower fuel consumption and reduced need for parking space in cities. Disadvantages may include technological challenges, liability questions, and consumer concern about their safety, as well as the possible loss of driving-related jobs in the transportation industry.
“We've been talking about driverless cars for years,” said PBPG board member Henish Pulickal, who made the motion asking the advisory group to draft a letter seeking to become a driverless car test site.
Pulickal suggested the plan group “put together a list of 10 different reasons why PB is a great location for driverless cars.” He himself listed several reasons: the community's street grid pattern, the coming of a Balboa Avenue trolley station, the city's aggressive Climate Action Plan and the need for car sharing among them.
PBPG chair Brian J. Curry agreed, commenting “We just want to get out in front of it (technology).”
“Will driverless cars read speed limits signs?,” quipped board member Joe Wilding.
After the Jan. 25 PBPG meeting, Pulickal pointed out the technology behind driverless vehicles is becoming increasingly less expensive.
“Electric car companies are working to retrofit cars,” he said, adding “The current cost of retrofitting a car is now $8,000, but may be down in a few years to $1,000 or less.”
Noting San Diego and Chula Vista have been designated as potential cities for a driverless-car pilot program, Pulickal pointed out a similar test program is already underway in Pittsburgh. The community planner added that statistics show an average car is “Only driven 4 percent of the time and is parked, and therefore unused, as much as 96 percent of the time.”
“Parking is a big issue,” Pulickal concluded.
The driverless car trend had members of the San Diego Association of Governments, the region's traffic-planning agency, enthused too.
“This is great news for the San Diego region,” said SANDAG chair and County Supervisor Ron Roberts. “We are at the start of a new transportation era, and it’s tremendously exciting for our region to be part of a national initiative to foster innovations and best practices that will enable the safe deployment of driverless vehicles.”
SANDAG, Caltrans, and the City of Chula Vista jointly submitted the application to the federal government to give the region a driverless-car test designation. The application garnered support from major auto manufacturers and technology companies, including Toyota, Qualcomm, Teradata, and DENSO International America Inc.
San Diego chosen as autonomous vehicle proving ground
The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated the San Diego region as one of 10 proving grounds for autonomous vehicles in the nation. The region has advanced features in its local transportation network and a global reputation as a high-tech hub for research and wireless innovations.
“This is great news for the San Diego region,” SANDAG chair and County Supervisor Ron Roberts said. “We are at the start of a new transportation era, and it’s tremendously exciting for our region to be part of a national initiative to foster innovations and best practices that will enable the safe deployment of driverless vehicles.”
SANDAG, Caltrans, and the City of Chula Vista jointly submitted the application to the federal government for the designation. The application garnered support from major auto manufacturers and technology companies, including Toyota, Qualcomm, Teradata, and DENSO International America Inc. To see the list of supporters and other background materials related to this initiative, visit www.sandag.org.
“The designated proving grounds will collectively form a Community of Practice around safe testing and deployment,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
“This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing and operations as they are developed, enabling the participants and the general public to learn at a faster rate and accelerating the pace of safe deployment,” Foxx said.
As part of the nationwide pilot, proving ground sites will bring together auto manufacturers, local cities, public agencies and private companies to test autonomous vehicles on designated facilities. The test sites will share information and work together to develop best practices.
“Caltrans is proud to join with SANDAG, the City of Chula Vista, and private partners in envisioning, and preparing for, innovative technologies like autonomous vehicles on our roadways,” said Laurie Berman, director of Caltrans District 11, which covers San Diego and Imperial counties. “We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Transportation has chosen our region as one of ten national proving grounds – and the only one featuring a state/regional/local/private partnership – to foster testing and share knowledge regarding automated vehicle technologies.”
“This is great news for the City of Chula Vista,” said Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas. “We look forward to working with the USDOT, SANDAG, and Caltrans in transforming transportation by testing the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles.”
The San Diego region has three distinct proving ground environments:
The I-15 Express Lanes
The I-15 Express Lanes run 20 miles from SR 163 in San Diego to SR 78 in Escondido. Often referred to as a freeway within a freeway, the facility is already a local testbed for modern traffic management technology. It includes state-of-the-art features, such as a movable barrier in the center median allowing for traffic lanes to be reconfigured, direct access ramps connecting to modern transit stations, new Rapid services, and a dynamic tolling system that allows solo drivers to use excess capacity in the carpool lanes for a fee.
In 1997, before the completion of the Express Lanes, the I-15 was the site of an autonomous vehicle demonstration.
The South Bay Expressway
Operated by SANDAG, the South Bay Expressway is a 10-mile tolled facility that runs through Eastern Chula Vista and provides access to the U.S.-Mexico border. The toll road has a number of traffic management assets that make it ideal for autonomous vehicle testing, including closed circuit TVs and an operations center that has space for staging equipment.
City of Chula Vista
The local network of streets and roadways in Chula Vista.