Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to put more people, and in turn, more vehicles on the road. That's a problem. Already, our nation's infrastructure is taxed – the American Society of Civil Engineers gives America's current infrastructure system a rating of D+, with a staggering investment of $3.6 trillion necessary to revitalize it by the year 2020. Adding more vehicles, even ones that drive themselves, without updating and upgrading our roadways will lead to disaster, according to Marcus Welz, who leads the Siemens Intelligent Traffic Systems business in the US.

Putting autonomous vehicles on today's roads is "like flying an airplane without radar," said Welz at Autoblog's UPSHIFT 2016 conference. That's already bad today, but it'll be even worse in the future. The US Department of Transportation estimates that there will be 70 million more people in America by 2045. The solution, according to Siemens, is to allow vehicles to communicate with each other and the infrastructure that supports them.

Connected vehicle technology is already being implemented in some areas. In Seattle, for instance, traffic control centers, intersection controllers, and parking guidance systems continuously monitor the flow of vehicles. Human workers can then adjust patterns on the fly to reduce congestion or reroute traffic.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, Siemens has been testing vehicle-to-infrastructure technology since 2007. While implementing connected vehicle technology has a price, it actually leads to lower costs over time. According to Welz, Ann Arbor spends about $48,000 per year on a typical traditional intersection. Connected Vehicle corridors cut about 80 percent off that price, with much of the savings coming from a reduced number of accidents.

In Tampa, Florida, Siemens is testing systems that alert drivers of impending red lights, and informs them when they need to slow down for a curve ahead or when they are driving the wrong direction on a one-way road. Bus operators are warned when a pedestrian steps into their path on the road.

These technologies are necessary, according to Welz, to pave the way toward a future of safe, self-driving vehicles. And the tech isn't necessarily difficult to implement. Connected vehicle technology can work with and be added to older vehicles. Welz said at UPSHIFT 2016 that Siemens is working on smartphone applications to enable vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. Apparently, you're already carrying much of the technology needed for connected vehicles right in your pocket. Who knew?

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