It seems that the ultimate success of the autonomous car revolution may actually depend on an infrastructure overhaul with repainted lane stripes and embedded roadway sensors capable of transmitting warning signals to vehicles.
“Good paint” has been cited by the self-driving car companies as one of the most critical upgrades necessary for the success of autonomous vehicles so that lanes can be properly identified by computer vision gear. With over 4 million miles of paved roadways in the U.S., this could mean infrastructure renovations on a grand scale, with cooperation from all states that might one day find self-driving vehicles on their roadways. However, two factors make it difficult for states to carry out concrete infrastructure improvements, whether it be painting lane stripes on all roads or embedding sensors in roads and traffic signals.
First, there is a lack of national vision for autonomous vehicles. While the Trump administration has promised to spend upwards to $1 trillion on infrastructure needs, there is no current plan for securing such funding or whether self-driving car-related work would be included. The second factor causing states to pump the brakes on infrastructure improvement is the sense that tech companies and automakers are already developing self-driving cars equipped with sensors and mapping systems capable of operating successfully, independent of roadway upgrades. While improvement in infrastructure and advanced, “smart roadways” would make self-driving cars more capable, spokesmen of both GM and Ford say that their companies are committed to making sure than the technology is able to work in the current environment.
This leaves the states in a sort of quandary. Why push forward with improvements to infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, if technological advancements will surpass the need for smart road sensors and repainted lane stripes?
Distracted driving is largely considered the driving force behind the autonomous vehicle movement. According to the National Safety Council, the number of deaths from traffic accidents in 2016 was 40,000, which represents a 14% increase from 2014. Only time will tell if the autonomous car revolution will help reduce traffic deaths.