– Interview with an expert –

Jim Barbaresso, National Practice Leader, Intelligent Transportation Systems, HNTB Corporation

Part 1



We’re delighted to introduce a new series of interviews with industry leaders and experts who have something interesting to say about the development of automated vehicles.

We begin with the first part of a two-part interview with Jim Barbaresso from HNTB Corporation. In our interview, he shares his views on the potential business cases for automated vehicles, explains how they may develop over the next decade and sets out what policy-makers and regulators can do to support the development of automated vehicles.

As we move towards a world of increasingly autonomous vehicles, what are the first changes we can expect to see on the roads?

While people may notice very little change in the short term, says Barbaresso, “Longer term, we will see some dramatic changes.”

To address the question, he suggests looking at potential near-term business cases that support vehicle automation.

For example, he says, many vehicles already have automated features, such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and automated emergency braking.

“Now consider how these features might be integrated together and with vehicle control systems to provide the necessary functionality for simple autonomous operations on highways,” says Barbaresso.

If those vehicles are also equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications capabilities, using dedicated short-range communications or emerging 5G technologies, “then we can begin to platoon vehicles on our highways”, he says.

As the penetration rate of vehicles with these capabilities increases, some authorities may even consider dedicated highway lanes to support platooning operations, says Barbaresso.

Five potential early use cases for autonomous vehicles

Barbaresso believes there are a number of early use cases for autonomous vehicles that will make good business sense:

Truck Platooning

Likely to begin in the commercial vehicle sector, automation will “save billions of dollars in the movement of goods in labor costs and fuel costs,” predicts Barbaresso. However, regulations such as those on following distances will need to be revisited. New operating strategies may also be needed to ensure longer platoons do not block vehicles entering and leaving the highway. Platooning may require truck-only lanes or dedicated hours of operation for platoon lanes, he suggests.

Urban Shared Use Services

As the cost of owning and operating a personal vehicle increases for city dwellers, shared use services make good business sense, says Barbaresso. “This is why TNCs [transportation network companies] like Uber and Lyft are so disruptive to current car ownership and mobility solutions,” he says. This model also makes sense for users, given the high expected cost of an automated vehicle. “Users will pay for rides, rather than for cars,” he says.

“Users will pay for rides, rather than for cars.”

Automated Shuttles

Already being implemented in a number of cities, this use case typically involves manufacturers producing automated shuttles with room for 12-15 passengers. Suitable for campus circulation and first- and last-mile services, shuttles can supplement other transport options, says Barbaresso. Most current plans include dedicated routes and lanes for these vehicles, which can require special lane markings. Shuttles are also likely to be electric, creating a need for recharging stations – possibly using wireless induction in future.

Freight Drayage at Ports and Airports

The first- and last-mile transfers of freight between different modes, such as moving containers from ships to trucks and trains, is another use case already in operation in modern port facilities, says Barbaresso. It is also being considered for airport facilities, where it can improve the efficiency of goods movements. Such operations are likely to require vehicles to be given priority at signals and possibly special lanes to connect facilities together safely and efficiently, he says.

Highway Maintenance, Farming and Mining Operations

Use cases involving mining and farming operations make good business sense, as they are off-road and easy to control, says Barbaresso. Automated vehicles also offer safety benefits for highway maintenance operations such as mowing or sweeping. Texas has already sought to improve the safety of the state’s highway maintenance workers by piloting an automated crash attenuator truck. “When it comes to safety, a strong business case can usually be made,” he says.

How will autonomous vehicles develop over the next 10-15 years?

Building on existing progress, there will be “an incremental path to higher levels of automation” in personal vehicles, says Barbaresso. And while some early use cases, such as automated shuttles, will use fully autonomous vehicles, in the short term these will typically be restricted to dedicated facilities and lanes.

However, notes Barbaresso, “just using the term ‘autonomous’ implies that the vehicle acts on its own”.

But sensor systems and software are still not ready to cope with every scenario an autonomous vehicle may face, he says, noting that sensors must be tuned to detect obstacles, but must also be able to ignore objects that pose no threat.

“The sensors and software must be smart enough to understand that a tree limb or bridge over the road is not a reason to stop the vehicle,” says Barbaresso.

He is a particular proponent of connected automation, where connectivity is integrated with vehicle sensors and advanced driver assistance systems. 

Such an approach “gives the vehicle more of a sense of premonition”, he says, and allows it to communicate with other vehicles and infrastructure, enabling use cases not possible with ‘autonomous’ vehicles.

“The sensors and software must be smart enough to understand that a tree limb or bridge over the road is not a reason to stop the vehicle.”

For example, platooning operations will be “safer and more efficient when other vehicles are able to safely enter or exit the platoon,” he says, while intersections will also become “smarter and safer” as crash avoidance capabilities improve. 

The convergence of connectivity and greater automation will take place within 10-15 years, he believes, but exact timings will depend on the penetration rate.

“During that period, we will have vehicles with various levels of automation and connectivity on our roads, but full penetration will not occur for many years after that as the fleet turns over and new mobility services grow.”

What policy decisions will be needed from governments and regulators?

To support the development of automated vehicles in the US, Barbaresso believes there will need to be consistent regulations across state boundaries.

“We have 50 state governments with regulatory control over driver licensing, enforcement, insurance regulations, vehicle registration, etc.,” he says.

To support the national interoperability of automated vehicles, “we will want to avoid a patchwork of regulations”.

“The sensors and software must be smart enough to understand that a tree limb or bridge over the road is not a reason to stop the vehicle.”

He points to following distances as one example where state rules can vary. “Does this mean that platooning trucks must vary their following distances each time they cross a state line? That is possible,” he says.

The US Department of Transportation issued guidance on the safe testing and deployment of automated vehicles in September. “The primary concern seemed to be balancing the need for regulation, especially related to safety of the vehicles, and stifling innovation,” says Barbaresso.

He expects the certification process for automated vehicle technology to evolve from today’s self-certification process, and says that it is “yet to be seen” how the ten sites designated as Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds by the DOT will fit into the process.

The second part of our interview is now available – read it here.

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About the expert

Jim Barbaresso, National Practice Leader, Intelligent Transportation Systems, Vice President and HNTB Fellow, HNTB Corporation

Jim Barbaresso is the national practice leader for intelligent transportation systems at HNTB Corporation and has more than three decades of industry experience. The firm’s ITS capabilities include the development of advanced and active traffic management systems and the latest advancements in connected and automated transportation technologies.

Since 2005, Barbaresso and HNTB have been involved in a growing number of projects related to the national Connected Vehicle initiative, including designing and building one of the first live test beds with the Michigan Department of Transportation. He was active in the 2016 Smart Cities initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Find out more about Intelligent Transportation Systems at HNTB


Part two – now available

The second part of our interview with Jim Barbaresso is now available, in which you can read about his thoughts on:

  • the challenges and opportunities driverless vehicles will create for urban planners;

  • the role the industry should play in educating consumers about the safety of automated technologies; and

  • what he is most looking forward to about the arrival of self-driving cars.

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