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How Las Vegas Is Embracing the Driverless Movement

Photo: Courtesy of the City of Las Vegas

In 2015, the city of Las Vegas undertook a planning initiative to study the city’s mobility needs for the next 20 years. During this planning period, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued solicitation for proposals for the Smart City Challenge, which focused on using advanced transportation technologies and data analytics to improve transportation safety and efficiency.

Mobility for all

The Smart City Challenge process helped to build a roadmap for the city’s overall Smart City Transportation Master Plan. Our philosophy is “mobility for all.” The study revealed that driverless vehicles would change the landscape of mobility, and that prompted us to begin to explore the technology. Previously, we had assumed the driverless movement was 10 or more years away, but research revealed that it is happening now. It has become imperative that the city understand how driverless technology operates, and how it will be integrated into our transportation system.

Las Vegas has implemented a demonstration site for a driverless shuttle in our downtown entertainment district. Within the two square blocks, six traffic signals were outfitted with Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) radios that broadcast the signal timing and phasing. The installation of the DSRC on the traffic signals was the main infrastructure modification we made for the project, which aids the driverless shuttle in recognizing traffic signal phases. The two-block demonstration site is within Las Vegas’ Innovation District that was established in 2016. The Innovation District allows us to test new technology so that we can expand technological advances in the future.

Avoiding human error

Roadway safety is the number-one priority for our community and driving public.  According to research, more than 90 percent of vehicle crashes are due to some form of human error or behavior. Driverless technology can help to assist drivers to avoid potentially hazardous conditions or situations. The assisted and driverless technologies can help to reduce and ultimately prevent those crashes. Other benefits of the driverless technology may include operational efficiency of our roadways/traffic signals, enhanced trip planning and optimized trip routing. 

When it comes to new technologies like driverless shuttles or even creating innovation districts, government jurisdictions must remain open to new possibilities.  Technologies are developing quickly that will change the landscape of transportation and city operations.

Analyzing traffic data

In addition to the city’s work on autonomous vehicles, we also are piloting technologies to analyze traffic data in order to provide safer roadways for drivers and pedestrians. The city collaborated with Hitachi to install smart cameras in the downtown Innovation District. The cameras were installed at four intersections to collect and analyze data. Hitachi video analytics processes the camera feeds in real-time and generate events, which are communicated to the Pentaho Event Receiver framework. Pentaho takes these video analytics events and transfers them to a dashboard where staff can review the data.

The deployment of the smart cameras has enabled the collection of invaluable data, including traffic analysis, people and bicycle counting, parking space analysis and overall activity in an area over time. Video analytics take raw data, display it in a readable format, and provide valuable real-time insights. Public safety is a by-product of additional video infrastructure, and by leveraging this data and allowing city officials to make decisions that are more objective, operational efficiencies are implemented and predictive analytics are explored as ways to increase citizen engagement and delivery services.

The future is happening now, and our government must be ready. Soon, technologies such as autonomous vehicles will be commonplace, and any city that has not made strides will be left behind.

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