Building the Future Series: The Outlook for Automation of Road Transportation

CEE’s Building the Future Webinar series hosts a presentation and Q&A about cities using autonomy to change their transportation systems for the better

In the Strategic Directions Distinguished Lecture webinar series, the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE) brings together professionals, educators, and students to discuss important issues that affect communities around the world. Our most recent meeting focused on adaptation and highlighted how different ways of autonomy in our transportation systems and water systems can benefit our communities.

The first part of the meeting consisted of an in-depth presentation from our speaker, Steven Shladover. Shladover earned his BS, MS, and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also a research engineer at UC Berkeley. In this webinar, Shladover focuses on the outlook for automation in road transportation systems. His main points were the five levels of driving automation that guide the circumstances around transportation issues. The first level consists of cruise control. The second is longitudinal and lateral control, which still requires driver supervision, supercruise or autopilot as examples. Level three houses systems that are able to fully take on the driving task under some limiting conditions. Level four allows systems to take on the driving task without any human intervention and tries to ensure safety if things go wrong. And level five is a “future dream,” where systems can do everything that a human can do. Considering that level four is the closest to what we are aiming for today in our technology, the majority of driving automation will evolve in this category. Shladover shared his predictions, which include the advance of local package deliveries, long-haul trucks on freeways, some automated ride-hailing (robotaxies), and many more. 

The second half of the meeting was a Q&A section with the panel guests, Kara Kockelman and Reuben Sarkar. Kockelman has earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in Civil Engineering from UC Berkeley. She is a professor of Transportation Engineering at the University of Texas. Sarkar earned his BS and MS in Chemical Engineering and his MBA from the University of Michigan. He is the president and CEO of the American Center for Mobility. The featured panelists discussed topics such as how driving technology should cooperate with humans and what policy shifts are needed for an automated future. 

U-M CEE is proud to host the Distinguished Lecture series and looks forward to more sessions in the future with students, staff and faculty. We appreciate all the information and guidance our special guests provided and look forward to joining everyone in the next meeting.