Safety First: Michigan Creating World With Fewer Fender Benders

The evolution of mobility demands collaboration between state, industry, community, advocacy and higher education leaders working together to make sure new mobility raises the quality of life for everyone.

Trevor Pawl

December 17, 2018

4 Min Read
Safety First: Michigan is Creating a World with Less Fender Benders.
Technicians installing equipment that leverages artificial intelligence to make one of Detroit's busiest intersections safer.

“Driverless vehicles, on paper anyway, make sense: Simply remove the possibility of fatigue or alcohol impairment in a driver, and you have just knocked 45.5 percent off the fatality rate in the U.S.—and that is merely the lowest-hanging fruit in a forest of human-factor hazards. But, we don’t tend to think on paper.” This statement was pulled from a recent Car and Driver article by Tim Vanderbilt asking the basic but deeply important question, “How safe is safe enough?” 

Roughly 40,000 Americans die from car accidents each year with 95% of them being due to human error. That is equivalent to a Boeing 737 going down every day for one year, and is a vastly under-communicated national crisis. However, for the first time in history, humans have designed artificial intelligence and automated driving technology to predict and prevent these accidents. Solving this crisis will not only fall on the shoulders of vehicle designers and engineers. Local policymakers, transit authorities and city administrators also have a crucial role to play. 

The State of Michigan, through state agencies like the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), is laser-focused on this crisis. In recent years, MDOT has upgraded connectivity within its network of highways and corridors so that signals, signs and even pavement markings can communicate back to vehicles regarding potential operating risks. This vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology will not only reduce accidents and save lives, but it will also improve congestion and help city planners collect valuable data that will be leveraged to design better city services and transportation offerings.

V2I technology installation can be used as a tool for economic development. Leveraging the best artificial intelligence software from some of the most dynamic new companies around the world can create compelling reasons for those dynamic companies to locate offices and create jobs near their installations.

Look no further than the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Randolph Street in Downtown Detroit to see this in action. In the past, crossing this intersection in one traffic signal would be akin to playing a real-life version of the popular 1980s video game, Frogger. The intersection contains the entrance and exit to/from the General Motors Headquarters, the entrance to the Detroit-Windsor International Tunnel Crossing, the City of Detroit Administration building drop-off, a hotel motor lobby, a 4-lane thoroughfare in Randolph Street and one of the city’s most expansive 8-lane thoroughfares in Jefferson Avenue. With such a high volume of slowing and speeding cars and pedestrians – the area was ripe for new V2I technology.

So, MDOT, the City of Detroit and PlanetM (the mobility arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation) sought out the best artificial intelligence provider to help ease the intersection’s bottlenecks and risks. After much research, a Dubai-based traffic safety startup, Derq, was chosen to launch two advanced software applications for connected vehicles to communicate with the surrounding infrastructure. Derq’s testing focused on predicting vehicle and pedestrian-related risks and proactively alerting fleets and equipped vehicles. Gap funding for this application launch was provided by the PlanetM Startup Grant Program, an innovative new program to attract the best new V2I technology to Michigan’s roads. Since launching this application, Derq has hired in Detroit and opened an office through the PlanetM Landing Zone to develop and test patented software that creates safer walkways for pedestrians. The perfect marriage between safety and economic development.

Not all of the new technology that makes our roads safer should start on our roads. Any new V2I innovation must go through thousands of hours of rigorous testing in artificial environments to ensure there are no failures. Michigan’s ecosystem is equipped to handle these earlier stages of testing through the American Center for Mobility and Mcity. These world-class testing sites contain closed urban, suburban and high-speed environments that can be used in all weather conditions, and prepare any V2I solution for the harshest or most complicated conditions.

New technology also needs to be supported by sound government policy. Michigan’s Council on Future Mobility, in its effort to benchmark other progressive policy-making states, cited in its 2018 annual report that Michigan is leading the nation in creating a safe environment to develop technologies associated with safe automated vehicles.

The evolution of mobility demands collaboration between state, industry, community, advocacy and higher education leaders working together to make sure new mobility raises the quality of life for everyone. And, there are real, concrete proof points to demonstrate Michigan's leadership on this front.

Reach out to our PlanetM team to connect to the people, places and resources dedicated to the evolution of transportation mobility.

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