Rendering of a potential connected transportation corridor with dedicated lanways for shared mobility vehicles. Photo courtesy of Cavnue.
August 14, 2020: Sam Abuelsamid, Forbes
The state of Michigan this week announced a partnership with Cavnue to develop a next-generation transportation corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The goal is to integrate a range of technologies including cameras and sensors to enable connected and automated vehicles to smoothly interoperate with traditional vehicles and enable faster, more accessible mobility for all. Actual deployment of such a system is unlikely to begin before some time in 2022.
Cavnue is a company you’ve likely never heard of, but they have been selected by the Michigan Department of Transportation as the master developer of this project. Cavnue is a subsidiary of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (SIP) which itself was spun off from Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs with investors including the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan and Alphabet. Sidewalk Labs is perhaps best known for its involvement in the recently canceled Toronto Smart City project. The goal of SIP is to work with cities and other partners to help fund infrastructure projects like the Michigan Connected Corridor.
According to Jonathan Winer, co-CEO of SIP, the company was set up to invest in technology transformation infrastructure projects. An example of this is to develop dedicated laneways for shared mobility vehicles including buses and robotaxis. One potential implementation of this would be to set aside a lane on specific routes that can benefit from this dedicated access for shared vehicles. There would also be dedicated loading zones to enable easy access.
However, setting aside an entire lane in urban areas poses challenges. Since the shared vehicles aren’t likely to fully utilize these laneways in the near future, the system deployed by SIP’s partners such as Canvue would utilize sensors and connectivity to enable access for other vehicles when there is available space without impeding the primary users of these laneways.
Other vehicles would have to pay tolls to use these laneways with the revenue being split between company and the city or state. In this way, the tolls ultimately help to fund the infrastructure and also incentivize users to shift to shared mobility modes which should ultimately help to reduce congestion and improve air quality.
The specifics of what may be deployed on the Michigan Connected Corridor have yet to be determined. At this point, even the route hasn’t been finalized, although Michigan Ave, is the most likely location since it stretches from Detroit to Chicago and runs through many of the cities and towns lying between Detroit and Ann Arbor.
According to Winer, the first two phases of the project will run in parallel. Environmental impact studies, detailed 3D mapping, community surveys and more will be taking place over the next 18 months or so. At the same time, Cavnue and its partners will be prototyping a one-mile stretch of the technologies at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Mich. which just happens to sit adjacent to Michigan Ave.
The likely setup will consist of sensors and communications roadside units along the route of the corridor to track which vehicles are using the laneway. There will also be some sort of cloud platform to enable coordination of the various service providers along the approximately 40-mile stretch. One of the challenges faced by people commuting to jobs, school and elsewhere in southeast Michigan is the lack of coordination between existing transit services where they do exist which can make for extremely long trips with extended waits between multiple legs of a trip.
A platform to coordinate between automated mobility services, shuttles, buses and even micro-mobility providers has the potential to significantly reduce the friction for travelers, make transportation more accessible and more affordable by increasing utilization. The benefits would not be just for those that live or work directly along the corridor. The coordination platform should also enable services that feed in and out of those operating on the corridor.
Cavnue won’t be creating the technology used in this and other projects, but will be the system integrator working with many technology partners to put everything together.
Winer emphasizes that getting a minimum viable product up and operational will likely take at least 18 months. It will likely be 3-4 years before the first elements of a connected corridor are in place, but if it works, this could lead to a fundamental change in the way residents of southeast Michigan get around the region.