By Matt Masters

The Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce held its March chamber connection luncheon last Wednesday at Rutland Place, where Dan Work, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, electrical engineering and computer science and the institute for software integrated systems at Vanderbilt University, spoke about the future of autonomous vehicles and traffic.

Work’s presentation entitled “Autonomous Vehicles: The End of Traffic?” detailed the future adaptations and challenges that face the increased move toward vehicle automation.

“If it’s easy to travel, then we’re going to travel more,” Work told the crowd of more than 50 people.

While the idea of people each having their own autonomous vehicle to travel in seems like the next step in America transportation, Work said it will take more than just a few autonomous vehicles to help change traffic issues.

Work said a few autonomous vehicles on the road and those with adaptive cruise controls, which automatically slow down with traffic when cruise control is enabled, can help to elevate phantom traffic jams.

Work showed several videos of his work on analyzing traffic patterns. One of those videos was collaboration between Ford and Vanderbilt University that studied the effects of adaptive cruise control in reducing and eliminating phantom traffic jams.

“The thing that is most apparent to me is that the technologies that go into freight are the ones that are going to be the most beneficial up front – the stuff in the trucking world,” Work said. “Anything that you can do to reduce the labor or reduce the fuel costs of operating those vehicles is direct money that makes your system more profitable. You can offer more services and so on. It’s probably not as attractive. You’re not going to see it in the national news everyday, but it’s definitely where I think a lot of the smarter companies are betting on the technology development. Because the business proposition there is much more straight forward than convincing everybody in this room to basically buy a car that has an $80,000 sensor on top of it.”

Work also said he believes the best opportunity for autonomous vehicles in traffic reduction will be in the shipping industry with autonomous tractor-trailers.