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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 59· No. 2 > Transfuture '94

Winter 1995
Vol. 59· No. 2

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.

photo of a rollover simulatorA rollover simulator (with instrumented test dummy inside) on display during TransFuture '94.

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.

Federico PenaTransportation Secretary Federico Pena says that the Department of Transportation is taking a leading role in promoting the development of new technologies.

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.

Christine Johnson, Rodney E. Slater, and George Peapples(From left) Christine Johnson, director of the FHWA Joine IVHS Program Office, Rodney E. Slater, FHWA administrator; and George A. Peapples, vice president of industry/government relations for General Motors Corp., participating in the signing of the National Automated Highway System Consortium agreement to develop a AHS prototype.

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.

Photos of the exterior and interior of the advanced traffic control demonstration trailer

The advanced traffic control demonstation trailer contains 25 exhibits. Each is a hands-on display demonstrating how state-of-the-art traffic control can reduce urban congestion, improve safety, reduce air pollution, and increase fuel efficiency.

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.

the automated pavement repair trailerAt the automated pavement repair trailer, FHWA's Rob Draper and Bob Betsold (second and third from the left) watch a video about the new pothole patching machine, which cuts the edges of the pothole, vacuums up the loose materials, drives and heats the surface, and blows patching material into the hole with enough velocity that it does not require compaction. With this machine, repair work can be done more quickly and maintenance personnel do not have to work in traffic.

Interior of video loggin van

The video logging van is equipped with an electronic video camera to record highway/traffic images directly on laser videodiscs. The videodiscs capture information about roadway design, sign visibility, guardrail placement, pavement markings, median width, and other hgihway characteristics. Then, the videodiscs can be repeatedly reviewed at any speed, enablign roadway designers and engineers to evaluate these highway characteristics without interfereing with traffic.

Participating TransFuture '94 Exhibitors

Exhibits listed here are only a sampling of the more than 100 exhibits.

Federal Highway Administration

  • Dashboard controls in the Intelligent Transportation System
  • ITS TravTech cars
  • Bridge structure inspection motorboat

Federal Aviation Administration

  • Newest devices for detecting explosives/weapons
  • Satellite technology for pilots in congested airports
  • Runway design for future superjumbo aircraft

U.S. Coast Guard

  • Quick-arrival, self-righting motor lifeboats
  • Differential global positioning technology
  • Computer simulation for minimizing future oil spills

Federal Railroad Administration

  • Train/auto collision and crossing safety simulator
  • High-speed rail technology with planned U.S. locations
  • Visitor-operated diesel locomotive

Federal Transit Administration

  • Interactive SMART Kiosk system providing travel data to the public
  • Electric transit bus with zero emissions to environment
  • Satellite-based vehicle tracking system

Office of Commercial Space Transportation

  • U.S. commercial space transportation vehicles
  • Constellation of 24 global positioning satellites (GPS)
  • Launch facilities for government, civilian, and commercial use

St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation

  • Oil spill tracking model and weather display system

Research and Special Programs Administration

  • Internal Inspection device for pipeline safety

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Auto Safety)

  • Alcohol breath detection device that creates ignition interlock
  • On-board computerized information system for police vehicles
  • Object detection system for school bus safety

Maritime Administration

  • Thermal imaging to avoid collisions
  • 3-D simulation for ship design
  • Satellite communications for vessel tracking

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

  • Computerized information on the nation's transportation system

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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