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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 59· No. 2 > Transfuture '94|
Transfuture '94 and Transportation into the Next Century
by Tommy Beatty
Thousands attended a special U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) three-day technology fair held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 7, 8, and 9, 1994. Showcasing the most exciting and innovative transportation technology, TransFuture '94 included more than 100 exhibits presented by each DOT agency and its industry partners.
For the first time, the public was invited to "test drive" a sample of intelligent transportation systems (ITS -- formerly intelligent vehicle-highway systems or IVHS) technology, learn how satellite technology is already improving communications and vessel tracking, and experience how virtual reality can be used to better design the interior of a ship or plane. Visitors enjoyed automated traffic safety displays, used global positioning systems (GPS) to map out streets anywhere in the United States, and visited a traffic management demonstration trailer to experience what it is like to be a traffic manager.
The fair offered a chance to experience the technologies of tomorrow. It showcased the genius of American scientists, inventors, and engineers and demonstrated the leadership role that DOT is assuming to accelerate the evolving technological revolution. Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña said the fair was designed to send an "unmistakable message to the entrepreneurs and visionaries who embody America's transportation genius: We are ready and eager to be your partner."
In his kickoff speech on Oct. 7, Peña explained that the benefit of new American transportation technologies is much more than the promise of new industries and jobs. "These new technologies will also help us overcome the problems of traffic congestion and air pollution that threaten to cripple our economy's growth and erode the quality of American lives. These are problems that we simply cannot solve with the traditional response of adding more highway lanes or runways. We are running out of room. Our air quality is threatened by a huge rise in vehicle travel."
Peña believes that America will lead the world in new highway technologies by building on existing infrastructure; making our roads and bridges more durable; and making our vehicles safer, quieter, and more compatible with the environment.
According to Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater, the most visionary effort to alleviate the problems of travel demands caused by explosive growth is the Automated Highway System (AHS), which is part of ITS. AHS is a bold new system that will enable cars to travel literally bumper to bumper at highway speeds under automated control; the car will be guided by the road -- using sensors and communication devices -- rather than the driver.
At the TransFuture kickoff, Slater announced the formation of a partnership with the National AHS Consortium led by General Motors Corp. to implement a $200 million project to develop the prototype for an automated highway system. Other principal members of the consortium include the California Department of Transportation, Bechtel, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Delco Electronics, Hughes Aircraft, Martin Marietta, Carnegie-Mellon University, and the University of California Partners for Advanced Transit in Highways Program.
Peña said DOT is positioned to take the lead to foster these and other new technologies from conception and research to operational testing, deployment, and commercialization. To accomplish its new goals, DOT has made both internal and external changes. DOT's total R&D budget has increased 24 percent since 1992 and key personnel and structural changes have been made within the departments.
Noah Rifkin was appointed DOT's initial director of technology deployment. Rifkin coordinates all DOT research efforts. In addition, Christine Johnson was appointed as director of the Joint IVHS Program Office. Johnson's charge is to move ITS technologies from the operational testing stage to full deployment.
Externally, DOT is reaching out to other federal agencies, departments, and national laboratories, such as the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency and the departments of Energy and Commerce, to foster new technologies. These connections, along with new partnerships forged with state and local highway agencies, international agencies and organizations, academia, transportation-related associations, and industry, are helping to leverage grants and accelerate existing transportation research and development.
One dramatic example of DOT's outreach efforts is the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle, which links DOT and the Big Three automakers of Detroit, many smaller high-tech firms, the Commerce Department, and other federal agencies and laboratories. The goal of the partnership is to develop a commercial automobile three times more fuel efficient than today's car and one that is virtually emissions free. Peña said that this project is almost as ambitious as the Apollo moon landing but "it will have far more sweeping, direct, and tangible economic and environmental benefits -- right here on earth."
Other technologies will also have a major impact on how we travel and work. First thing in the morning, commuters will be able to get real-time road and traffic reports from their computers or televisions. Vehicles will have on-board navigation equipment to provide instant information on the best travel route and to warn motorists about delays or accidents. Built-in collision-avoidance systems and radar will decrease the likelihood of accidents. However, should an accident occur, the vehicle will automatically call for help and provide emergency services with information regarding location and even accident severity! All of this will be accomplished by GPS transponders and sensors embedded in a car's bumpers and frames.
New technologies for public transportation will bring equally exciting changes, resulting in greater comfort, safety, and convenience to commuters. Passengers at train and bus stations will be able to buy tickets and get directions at interactive kiosks. Buses will be made out of new lightweight high-strength composites and will be powered by fuel cells that run on natural gas, hydrogen, or electric batteries. Like cars, buses will also be equipped with devices to sense and avoid collisions.
Trains will employ sensors to prevent accidents. "Intelligent" crossing gates will detect oncoming trains and could even deploy a safety net to prevent cars from colliding with oncoming trains.
Commercial travel and freight shipments will also be dramatically affected by intelligent transportation systems. It will soon be possible to give thousands of shippers real-time information on the exact location of their cargo -- wherever it moves -- from ships to trains and trucks to grocery store shelves. The availability of precise shipping information will save businesses countless dollars in inventory, warehousing, and fuel costs by creating a new level of just-in-time delivery services. The net result is increased productivity for businesses and consumers alike.
TransFuture '94 provided a rich, tantalizing sampler of exciting transportation technologies that are waiting just around the corner. Thousands enjoyed their preview at the fair; the rest of us will only have to wait a few years before seeing these technologies in use on our streets.
Participating TransFuture '94 Exhibitors
Exhibits listed here are only a sampling of the more than 100 exhibits.
Federal Highway Administration
Federal Aviation Administration
U.S. Coast Guard
Federal Railroad Administration
Federal Transit Administration
Office of Commercial Space Transportation
St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation
Research and Special Programs Administration
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Auto Safety)
Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Tommy Beatty is chief of the Technology Assessment Branch of FHWA's Office of Office of Technology Applications. His previous assignments in FHWA include highway engineer in the Construction and Maintenance Division and the Demonstration Projects Division, area engineer in the Maryland Division office, and assistant area engineer in the Virginia Division. Beatty graduated from the Highway Engineer Training Program.
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