In September 2023, ITS America and Cambridge Consultants put out a comprehensive report titled: “Digital Infrastructure Strategy Report: Shaping the future of transportation in the United States.” The role of technology in transportation – such as AI, IoT, 5G and blockchain – has grown exponentially, and rapidly – and offers immense potential for improving the US transportation system. In our conversations with DOTs, we’ve found that they want to (and need to) keep pace with the latest innovations available. We therefore found it relevant to many of our conversations and have summarized it (with the help of AI) for your digestion. You can read the full text here.
The transformation of the U.S. transportation system hinges on integrating technology and digital infrastructure, calling for a strategic approach to be defined by the US Department of Transportation. This strategy should enhance safety, economic growth, climate action, and equitable access.
Developing this strategy involves managing complexities, coordinating stakeholders, and integrating technologies like AI, IoT, and 5G. Federal leadership is crucial for successful implementation.
Key recommendations include:
- Setting a clear, achievable vision for digital infrastructure.
- Drafting a detailed implementation roadmap.
- Prioritizing innovative technology applications.
- Defining data sharing protocols.
- Involving stakeholders like state transportation departments in policy development.
The goal is a digital infrastructure that ensures safety, sustainability, and accessibility. This involves standardization, future-proofing, and promoting public-private partnerships and user-centric designs.
In essence, a concise, effective national digital infrastructure strategy is vital for advancing the transportation sector, prioritizing safety, equity, and environmental sustainability, and engaging a broad range of participants in the process.
In April 2023, the Digital Infrastructure Working Group of ITS America identified and prioritized ten critical digital infrastructure use cases to shape the future of transportation in the United States. These use cases serve as a blueprint for demonstrating the capabilities of digital infrastructure in the transportation system, focusing on safety, equity, economic strength, and climate objectives. While not exhaustive, they represent key areas for potential impact. The ten use cases are:
- Traffic signal integration: Enabling connected vehicles to preempt signals for safer and more efficient traffic flow.
- Connected vehicle data (safety): Providing real-time traffic updates and improving emergency response times.
- Connected vehicle data (economy): Reducing travel times and costs, leading to increased productivity.
- Cybersecure systems: Preventing accidents caused by cyberattacks on vehicle systems.
- Advanced air mobility (AAM): Efficiently moving people and goods between air and ground systems.
- Interoperability: Creating a competitive marketplace by sharing data and accelerating deployment.
- Curb data: Managing curb space for parking, deliveries, and greenery efficiently.
- EV charging stations: Ensuring reliable accessibility and interoperability for electric vehicle charging.
- Sharing weather data: Enhancing resiliency planning and disaster mitigation.
- Digital policy: Promoting transportation equity and aligning investments with community needs.
The workshop participants stressed the need for standards, interoperability, skilled workforce, data sharing, and coordinated implementation. They emphasized the importance of the USDOT taking the lead in driving these initiatives forward to realize the benefits of digital infrastructure in transportation. The success of these use cases will be measured by various factors, including safety improvements, economic growth, reduced emissions, and enhanced equity in transportation.
The report goes a level deeper on two important, specific use cases: connected vehicle data and traffic signal integration.
- Standardization: There’s a need for standardization in data exchange and integration to ensure interoperability and efficiency across the digital infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is urged to collaborate with existing national standardization programs and industry stakeholders to develop data standards, especially at the ‘system of systems’ layer.
- Connected Vehicle Data: Standardizing connected vehicle data is essential for improving safety and system efficiency. Key actions include promoting collaboration among stakeholders, ensuring data privacy and security, developing infrastructure, and incentivizing data sharing and exchanges. The report suggests the formation of a national committee to represent diverse perspectives in this sector.
- Traffic Signal Integration: Integrating traffic signals for safety and optimization requires standardization, data sharing guidelines, and infrastructure development. OEMs are encouraged to share data with transparent guidelines and legal agreements. Innovative funding mechanisms are proposed to support traffic signal integration.
- Digital Infrastructure Architecture: The report discusses the concept of a shared data layer as part of a reference architecture. This shared data layer would facilitate data exchange and communication between various systems and stakeholders, enabling the development of innovative applications for transportation. The report emphasizes the need for cybersecurity standards, real-time situational awareness, and the role of 5G communication in data exchange.
- Challenges and Considerations: Several challenges are identified, including the need for continuous updates to standards, managing data privacy and security, and balancing data collection with individual privacy rights. The report also stresses the importance of engaging technology providers, addressing funding issues, and considering the time-sensitive nature of data integration.
The report outlines several key points and recommendations for a comprehensive plan for the development and implementation of digital infrastructure:
- Setting a Common Vision: The report emphasizes the importance of establishing a clear and measurable vision for the digital infrastructure in transportation. This vision should be agreed upon by all stakeholders and serve as a reference point for future initiatives.
- Roadmap with Defined Milestones: A roadmap with specific milestones is proposed to measure progress towards the established vision. These milestones should be ambitious, achievable, and subject to regular monitoring. State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) will play a crucial role in achieving these milestones.
- Policy and Regulatory Framework: Develop supportive policies and regulatory frameworks that address legal, privacy, and security considerations. Establish guidelines for data sharing, interoperability, and emerging technologies.
- Making a Difference: Shift the focus from Proof of Concepts (PoCs) to implementing changes that have a direct and meaningful impact on citizens’ lives. Emphasize scaling up new technologies in real-world settings using proven methodologies.
- Citizen-Centric Changes: Prioritize projects that directly address the needs and aspirations of citizens. Improve accessibility, encourage multimodal transportation options, provide real-time information, and create a seamless travel experience for the public. Conduct public awareness campaigns and seek feedback from users and communities.
- Leveraging Industry Associations: Collaborate with industry associations like ITS America to encourage coordination and knowledge-sharing among stakeholders, including government agencies, private-sector entities, and academic institutions.
- Partnerships and Collaboration: Foster partnerships and collaborations with technology providers, telecommunications companies, academia, research institutions, and other relevant stakeholders to accelerate the implementation of the digital infrastructure strategy.
- Review and Adapt: Regularly review the strategy to assess its relevance and adapt it to evolving technological advancements, user needs, and policy changes. Maintain a flexible approach that allows for adjustments and updates.
In conclusion, expanding digital infrastructure within the transportation sector offers significant economic opportunities, including job creation, industry growth, and infrastructure modernization. This move not only aligns with goals of safety, equity, and sustainability but also acts as a catalyst for economic development.
At this critical juncture, the actions taken by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) will shape the trajectory of the nation’s transportation sector for decades to come. To navigate this complex landscape effectively, USDOT must promptly devise and execute a comprehensive digital infrastructure strategy. This strategy should be rooted in a realistic, attainable vision and supported by clear, measurable milestones. Active engagement with key stakeholders, taking their needs and input into account, is essential. USDOT should also prioritize industry use cases with the most substantial impact and continue to drive innovation in these areas.
Establishing a well-defined reference architecture will provide crucial guidance on standard protocols, system design, and best practices, serving as a blueprint for scaling up and future initiatives.
The USDOT is encouraged to take decisive action, as the decisions made in the near future will shape the evolution of the U.S. transportation industry, impacting safety, efficiency, sustainability, and the overall user experience. Following the outlined steps and maintaining a forward-looking, inclusive approach will pave the way for a future where digital technology transforms transportation, delivering substantial benefits for all stakeholders.
ITS America is ready to support USDOT in these efforts, convening stakeholders and identifying best practices, use cases, and deployment milestones for digital infrastructure. It firmly believes that USDOT is well-positioned to lead these endeavors, with ITS America’s membership ideally situated to aid in delivering the next generation of digital transportation infrastructure.
Furthermore, the development of an ecosystem for scaling digital infrastructure is of paramount importance. This cooperative ecosystem, founded on interoperability and data-sharing, will expedite the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) on a national scale. ITS will lead to more integrated, efficient, and safe transportation solutions, ensuring equitable access to mobility and reduced environmental impact. Embracing open data and standardized protocols will ensure adaptability and responsiveness to future changes and user needs.