Waymo Self Driving Car Safety
This Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, photo provided by Waymo shows a Chrysler Pacifica minivan equipped with Waymo's self-driving car technology, being tested with the company's employees as a biker and a pedestrian at Waymo's facility in Atwater, Calif. Waymo, hatched from a Google project started eight years ago, showed off its progress Monday during a rare peek at a closely guarded testing facility located 120 miles southeast of San Francisco where its robots complete their equivalent to driver's education. (Julia Wang/Waymo via AP)

To the editor:

Gov. Eric Holcomb recently announced his legislative agenda, and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization is excited to see autonomous vehicles mentioned. As the regional transportation planning body for Central Indiana, the MPO is concerned with the potential disruption of fully autonomous vehicles to existing travel patterns, behavior and land use.

While no one is sure how fast it will happen, one thing is certain: Autonomous vehicles are coming. Experts predict that autonomous vehicles will usher in a new transportation age, much like the automobile. The technology of driverless vehicles will significantly affect how people travel, how we move freight through our region, and how we design and maintain transportation networks in the future. We need to make sure that those impacts will be positive and not harmful.

The MPO is taking steps to be prepared for the arrival of fully autonomous vehicles. On Oct. 26, the MPO hosted an Autonomous Vehicles Summit at IUPUI. We brought in national experts to help local planners and engineers learn what is on the horizon in order to more effectively and efficiently plan for Central Indiana’s future.

The summit highlighted the dichotomous pictures of the future with AVs. For example, autonomous vehicles could make travel safer, decrease shipping costs, allow people to reclaim lost time spent driving in other ways and allow communities to use land dedicated to parking for things like park lands and natural areas or denser developments. Alternatively, autonomous vehicles could continue to encourage sprawl and air pollution due to longer commutes, increase congestion from cars driving without people in them, and further limit mobility options for disadvantaged people who wouldn’t be able to afford an autonomous vehicle.

We applaud both local and national researchers who are working to evaluate and improve autonomous vehicle technology, such as IUPUI’s Transportation Active Safety Institute. The institute is researching ways to use autonomous and connected vehicles to improve safety and evaluating existing autonomous technology in cars – like lane assist.

At the summit, speakers highlighted the work of the University of Michigan. Researchers there have been evaluating autonomous vehicles at its 32-acre mock city. A public-private partnership known as Mcity, the facility was built to test driverless and wirelessly connected cars in a simulation of an urban environment. It’s not only a testing ground but a center for collaborative research that involves the university, government entities and more than 65 industry partners – including 16 from a variety of industries that have invested $1 million to the effort.

When will our fleet of vehicles be fully autonomous? There are predictions, but no one really knows. We do know that there will be a period of time, possibly years or even decades, where fully autonomous vehicles will mix with vehicles with human drivers. Officials at the Indiana Department of Transportation, cities, towns and the Indianapolis MPO will need to understand how to best accommodate this mixed fleet.

The Indianapolis MPO looks forward to collaborating with local researchers, INDOT and local jurisdictions as we envision a future with fully autonomous vehicles. We will continue our own regional education and discussion on autonomous vehicles.

Anna Gremling

Executive director, Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization