By on August 14, 2020

As if we needed more evidence that the people running things may actually be even dumber than we are, Michigan leadership has proposed building a separate lane for autonomous cars to run between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The special road would implement a vehicle-to-infrastructure communications network and is planned to be built alongside Michigan Avenue and I-94 as its own separate lane. Kind of like a bus line or railroad.

Reminiscent of the “Highway of Tomorrow” that premiered in General Motors’ 1956 Motorama short Design for Dreaming, where a woman dances around the latest automotive products before the whole thing descends into futurist madness, Michigan’s more-modern concept is only slightly less ridiculous. State governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the project on Thursday, noting that it already had support from both the public and private sectors.

That doesn’t mean it will leave the realm of fantasy, however. 

Having grown up in Michigan, your author recalls a rail network that was supposed to link Detroit and Ann Arbor (aimed at revitalizing the former) that never happened. But that plan wasn’t backed by Cavnue — which is backed by the Alphabet’s (Google) Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners. The program even has its own advisory board, comprised of experts from companies including Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, TuSimple, and Waymo (Google again).

Industrial partners will be joined by the University of Michigan, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and the American Center for Mobility.

“The action we’re taking today is good for our families, our businesses, and our economy as a whole. Here in Michigan, the state that put the world on wheels, we are taking the initial steps to build the infrastructure to help us test and deploy the cars of the future,” said Governor Whitmer said in front of Michigan Central Station (now owned by Ford). “As we rebuild our roads to ensure every Michigander can drive to work and drop their kids at school safely, we will also continue working to build smart infrastructure to help prepare us for the roads of tomorrow. In Michigan, where the health of our workers and our economy are directly tied to the health of our auto industry, we will continue this innovative work to secure our state’s position as the automotive capital of the world.”

It sounds good, and your author would love to see his home state getting some of its swagger back, but the idea just seems too damn stupid to get off the ground. The whole point of autonomous vehicles (which still don’t exist in a mature format) is to make them functional on existing roadways. Isolating them to a private, 40-mile stretch of roadway adjacent to the concrete slab linking two of the state’s most-populous cities offers nothing. However, Gov. Whitmer claimed the route could also be used to shuttle passengers in autonomous pods and serve as a freight route for self-driving trucks. Later, of course. The first batch will be a bunch of test vehicles vying to see if they can navigate a straight expanse of road that’s loaded with sensors.

Officials are also saying they want to evaluate the project for 24 months before making any moves. That’s just enough time for leadership to virtue signal about a cutting-edge program before it’s funneled down the memory hole.

At least the news gives us an excuse to share GM’s boldly optimistic and hysterically sexist Design for Dreaming again. It’s just too bad none of us will actually have an opportunity to fire up the old Firebird 2 and take off on the highway of tomorrow.

 

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

38 Comments on “Traffic Fantasy: Michigan Pitches Dumb Idea...”


  • avatar
    Vulpine

    If you ask me (and I know you didn’t) I think this is a great idea. It emphasizes the inter-vehicular/infrastructure communications that is needed to give autonomy the data to make the best decisions at every move.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      I still never mind hearing from those that disagree. All takes are welcome here.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      intervehicle/infrastructure communications are great, but there are lots of entities that will never have communications that still have to be dealt with. Wildlife, debris etc. are examples.

      The best way to build these lanes would be to call up Musk and have him bore two tunnels. That way it will work. Although, I suppose wildlife and debris can still in tunnels. Maybe sensors in the tunnel to detect it?

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @mcs: Collision avoidance is one thing and something that every vehicle needs to improve. But one factor of collision avoidance IS communications between neighboring vehicles at approximate Bluetooth radio range while another is communications with traffic management systems, which should be at approximate CB radio range (5 miles plus or minus.)

        The advantages here are that each vehicle supposedly knows where it’s going and the TMS advises the system of any road hazards and traffic density between itself and its destination, allowing the AI to determine the fastest or most efficient route from departure to arrival; up to and including the ability to re-route as necessary in the event of unforeseen events. Meanwhile, the short range system can have each vehicle forecasting any maneuvers and resolving any conflict so that both (or all) maneuver as needed without crashing into each other. Combined, the safety of travel and the probable time to destination are improved with significantly reduced traffic congestion as a result. Side-mounted turn signals and other lamps on modern vehicles are an attempt to offer that level of communications between human drivers but few actually use them and there are some drivers that will actively accelerate to prevent such a maneuver if said driver perceives that it would slow them down or cost them time.

        To be blunt, such a system needs to be enacted and a real-world test highway for such a system is an excellent beginning. Resolve the startup issues and then you can begin expanding it until the entire city is covered. Then the AI only needs to ‘worry’ about those non-communicative vehicles, pedestrians, etc. And even then, those hazards can be communicated to the TMS to help other autonomous vehicles be aware of them.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          I do agree with having a vehicle-to-vehicle-to-infrastucture system. It’s critical to have and would actually fill in some holes in Tesla’s autopilot system. We have it in aviation – ADS-B. As a designer, there’s a lot I can do with something like that. You can even pick up on potential hazards that don’t have reporting capability like debris in the road. Other vehicles behavior, like sudden swerves or maybe even object recognition reports can be extremely helpful. One vehicle could even report “deer spotted on the side of the road” and alert other vehicles. What they need to do is start deploying it.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @mcs: Thumbs up. You see the sense in adding additional communications capabilities to handle those kinds of alerts. That would also work to prevent most, if not all, of the stationary vehicle collisions that Tesla gets so panned about.

    • 0 avatar
      Slocum

      Promoting the idea of inter-vehicle communications and separate lanes is clear admission that autonomous vehicle development is trouble and that developers are losing confidence that such vehicles can be made safe to drive on ordinary roads, in traffic, in bad weather with unpredictable hazards like pedestrians, deer, debris, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @slocum: No necessarily. Developers just want as much data as possible. Inter-vehicle communications wouldn’t totally solve the pedestrian/deer/debris problem on its own.

        There are a lot of different companies and researchers working on autonomous vehicle development. Not everyone is taking the same approach. Not everyone has the same timeline.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @Slocum: False. It has been known by most that communications is necessary for fully integrated autonomy; the fantasy is that they can be fully autonomous without that communications. A little research shows that only one brand–and that one is NOT an automotive brand–understands that need and has worked on the development of a system that includes that communications. By the way, the idea itself is over 60 years old; even then science writers realized that communications was critical to full autonomy.

        The thing is that building the infrastructure will be an expensive process. What Michigan is pitching is the first effective test area that can also serve a practical purpose of permitting potential autonomous vehicles to operate under full autonomy in a real-world environment allowing commuters and cargo carriers to operate realistically.

        So, the cars as we see them now are getting better at managing their immediate surroundings but full autonomy requires knowledge of existing and changing traffic patterns to be fully capable.

        • 0 avatar
          Slocum

          “It has been known by most that communications is necessary for fully integrated autonomy”

          No, that has not been generally known or discussed. Show me, for example, where Google (or ANY of the major players) has been telling us all along that their self-driving system could never possibly work without universal inter-vehicle communications.

          “By the way, the idea itself is over 60 years old; even then science writers realized that communications was critical to full autonomy.”

          So we’re going to bring back an old, Flash-Gordon era idea (one that never got off the ground) to try to save the struggling autonomous vehicle dream?

          “The thing is that building the infrastructure will be an expensive process.”

          Yes — insanely expensive. In a state that can’t up with the money to fix the regular roads.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @Slocum: “So we’re going to bring back an old, Flash-Gordon era idea (one that never got off the ground) to try to save the struggling autonomous vehicle dream?”
            — I said, ‘over 60 years ago,’ not ‘over 80 years ago.’ Get your time scale adjusted. And all you have to do is look at what the different brands are doing; only ONE is considering intera-vehicular communications and it’s not Google. That one, by the way, is notorious about its secrecy when it comes to new developments. Though if you pay attention, bits and pieces of data do get out that can show you the direction they’re headed.

            But your last point is valid–and also necessary. It’s not that they can’t come up with the money to fix the regular roads, it’s that politicians have stolen the money meant for those roads, bridges, etc. and spent them on unnecessary pork and stripped the US treasury of its income so the country (and the states, counties, cities) can’t get the support they need. This has been going on for no less than 40 years as they have been attempting to bankrupt this country and its people pretty much since Richard Nixon entered politics.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            ? Isn’t it worth it all if we’re going to get cool bubble top cars ? .

            -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      blackeneth

      I agree! It’s essentially a development and test track for autonomous driving technologies.

      >The whole point of autonomous vehicles (which still don’t exist in a mature format) is to make them functional on existing roadways.

      What’s the backup plan? Current autonomous systems use, in part, deep learning AI to identify hazards. This may be inadequate to the problem.

      A more straightforward path is to modify the road infrastructure to enable automated vehicles to navigate by high precision telemetry, maps, inter-vehicle communications, and collision avoidance systems.

      Would it be expensive to modify the road infrastructure? Not necessarily. Part of the development process is to come up with a cost effective solution. Say part of the solution was to erect radio towers along roadways to provide telemetry and central control. Expensive to sprinkle radio towers around roadways around the country? Sure, but we did it for cell phones — there are roughly 400,000 in the United States, expected to grow to over 1 million by 2026.

      A clear hierarchy also exists of roads to prioritize for upgrades – interstates, highways, arterial roads, etc.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I would have to agree that it is a dumb idea if functionality is the primary purpose. It has such limited scope and destinations and yes….sort of defeats the purpose of autonomous vehicles if you are essentially building a railroad of electronic sensors. Not to mention, what sort of freight are Detroit and Ann Arbor exchanging? Ann Arbor shipping us hippies and snowflakes while Detroit exporting the hipsters and homeless? Its use for freight is rather limited is what I am getting at. I think it is more an attempt to lure and keep existing companies in the autonomous vehicle sphere with something unique than actually building something useful. Consider it a taxpayer funded gift to the private sector.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    First picture…

    “The second concept car, the Firebird II of 1956, was a more practical design: a four-seat, family car.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_Firebird

    GM was founded in 1908. 1956 was 48 years after that (obviously), and now we are 64 years on from that.

    Predicting the future is difficult. Things this concept car absolutely nailed:
    • The high beltline
    • Four-wheel disc brakes
    • Independent suspension
    • The wiper system of 2020

    Things predicted correctly in the 1956 “Traffic Fantasy” video (they fast-forward to 1976, but just as true in 2019):
    • Poorly-maintained highways
    • Horrific traffic
    • The human-to-human communication style of GM’s OnStar
    • GM Design Staff’s complete lack of respect for women

    • 0 avatar
      la834

      The infotainment display in the Firebird II looks absolutely primitive compared to the real-life display in any modern car, and Google Maps via Carplay seems a better solution than everyone turning on a radio to talk to someone in a control tower…

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        The interesting thing is that with OnStar and other corporate-branded systems, you literally do have the ‘control tower’ navigation they predicted available today.

        • 0 avatar
          la834

          Sort of, though I think OnStar and other telematics systems are mostly used for emergencies or concierge-like functions. I doubt many people use OnStar for routine navigation.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @Ia834: No argument but the capability IS there and it has frequently been advertised as a feature of OnStar. Most of us have GPS either in on-board NAV or in our smartphones but sometimes those go out for whatever reason and OnStar (and their equivalents) have the ability to give you personalized directions if that ever happens.

            As for the emergency services, absolutely it serves as a navigator in the event of crash or whatever; advising the responders as to your exact location while also helping to keep you advised of the response, if you or the vehicle is capable of receiving that response.

  • avatar
    David Cardillo

    Well, I was intrigued to see that many of the designs were “preserved” and or co-mingled from era models which persevered into the 2000’s.Pontiac Solstice comes to mind.. WhatdoIno❓

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Maintaining I-94 decently would be a better use of the money.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    In the film, GM also suggests the car based cell phone. However, that didn’t materialize till much later than 1976.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      I think that may not be true, depending on your exact definition of “car based cell phone”. But go look at some Dukes of Hazzard episodes and see Boss Hogg using his car phone in his Cadillac. That show went off the air in 1983, I think.

      A radio car telephony system was first used in the USA in 1946, apparently. And there was a pretty robust system running since 1964, a precursor to the modern cell phone networks we use today.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improved_Mobile_Telephone_Service
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_phone

  • avatar
    dwford

    Another transportation boondoggle. My state of Connecticut recently completed a 10 mile $500m bus only highway. The needed bus stops (outdoor only with no bathrooms), overpasses, pretty green busses etc were all very expensive, and the bus fare was paid at a kiosk and on the honor system (obviously that didn’t work out, and the state quickly hired ticket takers). This 10 mile bus line almost instantaneously metastasized into a full bus line traveling more than 30 miles from the end of the special bus highway, and now completely overlaps the existing bus system. Crazy wasteful. Now we have one of our state representatives pitching a $10 BILLION tunnel system under our state capital to bury the highway. These politicians are truly insane.

  • avatar

    That’s all are fantasies from naive and optimistic 1950s. They did not know what is coming. What connected vehicles will do when new generation of savages block that highway and start vandalizing and burning connected cars with passengers inside? What, file lawsuits? As if anyone cares about law anymore. If you are curious about future of transportation you better watch Mad Max movies.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    Sounds like this road will serve as a test case for the “road of the future.” If engineers cannot perfect the performance of autonomous driving on public roads, then the alternative is to redesign said roads to favor such vehicles over the manually driven competition.

    Combine that with favorable regulation and increased interest from the public who can barely concentrate on driving and the success of even one autonomous vehicle lane project may hasten the banning of manually driven vehicles from the landscape.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @Mkizzy: Exactly what I’ve been saying all along. Glad to see that you recognized that, too.

    • 0 avatar
      Slocum

      “If engineers cannot perfect the performance of autonomous driving on public roads, then the alternative is to redesign said roads to favor such vehicles over the manually driven competition.”

      That is not the only alternative. It is simply not a given that we MUST enable autonomous vehicles by any means necessary (no matter how impractical or ruinously expensive). Consider the (highly likely) possibility that the roads of the future may look very much lot like the roads of the present and past (e.g. containing vehicles with human drivers)

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      @MKizzy

      And we will have reinvented the railroad with an automatic driver. I tried that out on the London Underground Victoria Line in 1970. Look ma, no hands! The driver used to hang out the window as the subway train came into a station automatically braking.

      Remaking infrastructure to suit some cranky poorly-developed autonomous vehicle is a total non-starter. Toyota has been pushing that idea with its planned cities. If we cannot do better than that in 2020, then we might as well give up now.

  • avatar
    forward_look

    I remember the Lode expressway’s changeable speed limit signs. The theory was that a central control would monitor backups and change the speed limits to minimize congestion and turbulence. Of course nobody observed the limits so it failed miserably.

    Gretchen is gonna own this fiasco. Along with her other fiascos.

  • avatar
    forward_look

    I remember the Lodge expressway’s changeable speed limit signs. The theory was that a central control would monitor backups and change the speed limits to minimize congestion and turbulence. Of course nobody observed the limits so it failed miserably.

    Gretchen is gonna own this fiasco. Along with her other fiascos.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    The thing is if the future was easy we’d already be there. But the future comes hard so it’s not here.. yet. Reporting on the past as if it accurately predicted a future (which didn’t happen) is lazy ass B.S. Please report on a The Jetsons cartoons predicting the future. And where’s my flying car?

  • avatar
    Jarred Fitzgerald

    I mean, that doesn’t look bad, doesn’t look bad at all, if you’re going for the futuristic look.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven across the country numerous times. And once or twice every year I drive between Boston and Washington, DC, often getting off of 95 to see friends in Pennsylvania.

    I always look forward to those trips. And I can’t imagine their being half as fun in an autonomous car.

    I also see a hubris in efforts to give cars autonomy. I think it would do humanity some good to find that there are some things we just can’t do. (Of course, if civilization endures long enough, we’ll find we can’t colonize other planets, and probably can’t reach ones that would support human life.)

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Driving Across America means very different things to different people .

      I try to take my time and I always wind up on some tertiary roads in the middle of “don’t break down here no matter what” or other places, sometimes *very* hostile yet I always have a good time, meet new people and situations and get to see places most do not .

      I’m hoping there’s still a few more long road trips left in me, I gave up on driving the Alcan Highway or riding a Moto to Sturgis a few years ago but apart from SWMBO’s health I see no reason to stop enjoying and exploring, America by the blue roads .

      -Nate

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Pete Zaitcev: I cannot own a typical F-150 size truck, so I am very interested, although I’m worried for...
  • Oberkanone: Ford Ranger XL Supercab equipped with FX2 or STX package may be obtained for $25K. How much less will the...
  • Vulpine: Still looks bigger than I was hoping for but that might just be the camouflage making it look bigger. I...
  • Lightspeed: Our two cars are a 2000 Lexus GS400 and a 2003 Maxima, both in very good condition. The Maxima...
  • Snooder: https://insiderpaper.com/trevo r-milton-arrest-rumors-circula te-on-social-media/ Looks like that rumor has...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber