VC Firm Outlines Plans for First Autonomous Freeway

Autonomous freeway

Interstate 5 connects Seattle with Vancouver in Canada, over a distance of 140 miles.

The introduction of driverless cars has, and will continue to be, messy. As automated vehicles roll out into more and more live environments, bumps and scrapes are bound to increase as manufacturers iron out the kinks and humans get to grips with the new tech.

The solution? The world’s first autonomous freeway.

In a white paper published on Sunday, Seattle-based VC firm Madrona Venture Group proposed what it imagines as an ‘autonomous vehicle corridor’, replacing today’s I-5 freeway between two of its connections – Seattle and Vancouver. In short, the plan will see a 140 mile stretch of road, which crosses an international border, given over entirely to autonomous vehicles by the year 2040.

First proposed by Madrona Venture Group last year, the authors – including co-director of Amazon Tom Alberg and former CTO of Microsoft Craig Mundie – have refined their idea to explain how the idea could be rolled out practically.

The report reads: “Given the pace of progress, we are confident that we will have a significant number of autonomous vehicles on our roads in the next five to ten years, and we need to plan for that future now. We propose that by 2040, at the latest, all of I-5 be completely autonomous, and no human-driven cars be allowed on the highway.”

The team imagines phasing in autonomous car lanes incrementally, until the route is entirely reserved for non-human operated vehicles. According to the report, the first step is the introduction of driverless cars into special HOV (vehicles occupied by more than just the driver) lanes. Following this, lane-by-lane human vehicles would be phased out along the I-5, until it is entirely reserved for driverless cars.

“This final transition will require some tipping point in terms of vehicle availability and public interest, and we believe this will happen in the next ten to twenty years, when usage and data will demonstrate the dramatic benefits of autonomy along the dimensions of safety, efficiency, and productivity.”

The team believes that stage one – the HOV transition – could begin ‘immediately’ with vehicles capable of automatic braking and lane control. Even more exciting is that the benefits of this introduction could be seen right away. Experiments from students at the University of Illinois have proven that just five percent penetration of autonomous vehicles on a road could reduce or eliminate stop-and-go pulses that human drivers cause due to their slow reaction times and hard braking style. This in turn could reduce pollution and overall traffic congestion on those teeth-grinding daily commutes.

Realistically, it is strongly unlikely that this white paper will cause any change, not least because it has originated from a VC firm as opposed to an official body. However, Alberg says that its goal is rather to convince traffic engineers, transport commissioners and freeway planners to at least start taking vehicle automation into consideration. The group claims to have been ‘heartened’ by an invitation from Washington State Department of Transportation to speak at its next public meeting.



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