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VOL. 42 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 26, 2018

Nashville, state at forefront of autonomous car development

By Hollie Deese

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Nashville is one of 10 cities worldwide chosen for an autonomous vehicles initiative launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies in New York and the Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute.

The others are Austin, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Helsinki, London, Los Angeles, Paris, São Paulo, Tel Aviv and Washington D.C.

The program, called the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles, gives Nashville an edge in self-driving advances by supplying access to data and coaching from urban planners and other experts in order to help prepare the city for self-driving cars and how to use those cars to address transit issues.

“I actually think that we were invited to participate because they knew that we were thinking about transit, and they knew it was going to be a question that would come up,” says Erin Hafkenschiel, director of the Nashville Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Sustainability.

Last year, the program brought mayors and senior city leaders from the 10 cities together with industry and leading policy experts to address the many ways self-driving technology could solve longstanding urban challenges.

“They’ve brought a bunch of the auto manufacturers in to talk to us about where the state of the technology is,” Hafkenschiel explains.

“We know so much more about Lyft and Uber than we did two years ago. I think it has been super helpful in informing us as we’ve been putting together the transit plan that is in front of voters.”

The initiative not only works directly to advance work in these cities, but also supports them as they transition to incorporating autonomous vehicles – a reality that is not so far off.

A group of 20 public and private partners across the state recently launched the TennSMART Consortium to accelerate the development and deployment of intelligent mobility innovations in Tennessee.

Founding members of the TennSMART consortium include Bridgestone Americas, Cummins Filtration, Inc., DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee, FedEx Corporation, GRIDSMART Technologies, Inc., Local Motors, Lyft, Miovision, Nissan North America, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Stantec Consulting Services Inc., Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), Tennessee Tech University, Tennessee Valley Authority, Top Five Inc., University of Memphis, The University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University.

“Our objective is to move beyond laboratory research into local and regional demonstration projects with our partners in TennSMART,” says Rich Davies, deputy director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Sustainable Transportation Program.

“Strong regional partnership was important to us because, as a national laboratory, we can do great scientific work, but in order to really commercialize the technology, we generally are going to have to partner with someone.”

Davies says there was not a lot of strong working relationships among the different research organizations, state entities, and people with jurisdictional responsibility, and they wanted to pull the state resources together.

“Transportation is a really important part of Tennessee and we were worried that there wasn’t enough collective understanding of what was going on and what the future looked like,” Davies adds.

The specific intelligent mobility focus areas identified by the TennSMART Consortium are connected and automated vehicles; heavy duty trucking and freight efficiency; cybersecurity; electric vehicles; and multimodal commuting.

“Connected and automated vehicles bring new opportunities to help increase safety on roadways across Tennessee,” says TDOT’s Ryan Simpson in a release.

“TennSMART brings together industry leaders, research institutions, and government to integrate intelligent mobility advances into long-range plans for the Tennessee transportation system.”

Consortium members will assist with the creation of a technology roadmap and strategic plan for intelligent mobility initiatives in Tennessee.

The consortium was created, in part, to address mobility opportunities that individual organizations could not tackle alone.

“The list of people that are founding members, these are the people that have the strongest interest and really wanted to make sure that we, as Tennessee, were prepared to meet this future with the least amount of confusion and cost,” Davies points out.