connected vehicles (Karsten Neglia/

Colorado puts technology in the driver's seat

Colorado recently celebrated “Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Day,” where Gov. John Hickenlooper discussed the state's partnership with Panasonic on the country's first production-grade, connected vehicle system in which real-time data is shared across vehicles, infrastructure and people to improve safety, lower fuel consumption and reduce congestion.

The Colorado Department of Transportation, the City and County of Denver and the Regional Transit District are planning the deployment of Easy Mile's autonomous shuttles in spring 2018. The driverless vehicle program will connect a light rail station to bus routes to provide a first- and last-mile solution for commuters.

While the autonomous shuttles are easy to get excited about, Jarrett Wendt, vice president of strategic initiatives and business development for Panasonic Enterprise Solutions, told GCN the real achievement is the infrastructure that will collect data from cars and use it to inform drivers of road conditions. Panasonic estimates that vehicles traveling in the state generate 592.3 gigabytes of data per hour.

A data ecosystem is "the hero here … being able to pull this disproportionate amount of data and do something with it,” Wendt said.

A pilot program has put roadside units on the 400 acres along I-70 connecting Denver to Denver International Airport. Smart cars will communicate with the RSUs via dedicated short range communications (DSRC) , sending standard information like their location, speed and direction as well as whether their windshield wipers are on and the status of a vehicle's traction control. A fiber connection will transmit the data from the RSUs to the traffic management center where "a massive cloud-based computing process" determines if any alerts need to be sent to the driver, Wendt said. The entire cycle from car to the management center and back takes less than one second, he added.

The idea is to change drivers' alert ecosystem from one that’s largely peer-to-peer thanks to apps like Waze to one that provides information that has been verified by the Colorado Department of Transportation. The system could send an alert to a driver who is approaching a dangerous curve and even send different levels of alert based on drivers' speed. It could also transmit alerts for icy roads or traffic accidents in almost real time.

As more vehicles come equipped with DSRC capabilities that allow them to communicate with smart infrastructure and other vehicles, CDOT expects to see an 80 percent reduction in crashes, a quadrupling in the capacity of highways and better travel time reliability, according to its website.

Although the data will be owned by CDOT, the data ecosystem will have an open application programming interface for researchers or developers. “We’re just scratching the surface as far as what this could unlock … if you have access to this type of data,” Wendt said.

The connected-vehicle infrastructure is being built to ensure a "seamless" transition to 5G, which would eliminate the need for the RSUs and improve the connection between cars and the traffic management center. Wendt said 5G will be “an access unlocker” for connected-car projects because it will require less infrastructure to be built.

Colorado plans to start putting up RSUs along the pilot route during 2018. The full ecosystem is expected to be finished by 2020.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.


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