Digital Transportation: The Future of Urban Mobility

The physical scale and unprecedented population growth in some cities have officials grappling with how to manage their transportation network. The Open Mobility Foundation has a bold, digitally-based vision to help cities meet their mobility goals.

PORTLAND, Oregon – What used to be a relatively quick, uneventful drive into Portland from my southwest neighborhood has turned into a traffic debacle. I knew commuter life in Portland had changed forever when, on this last visit, my GPS said, “Are we there yet?”

Portland is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, and like many booming cities, population growth and gridlock have swelled hand in glove. But there is reason for optimism, as Portland and 15 other cities this summer inaugurated the Open Mobility Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to modernize city planning technology and help communities meet their mobility goals.

Cities have always been responsible for managing their surface transportation network, and for the better part of the last century, they did so using analog systems like stop signs, lane markings, and curbs.

Today, however, the transportation ecosystem is surging ahead digitally, with new modes of transportation like ridesharing, scooters, and self-driving vehicles being introduced yearly.

In principle, this phenomenon should be a welcome novelty. After all, with limited budgets, cities can’t just keep adding new transit routes.

But these digital modes of transportation offer plenty of potential in their own right. More than 48% of trips in the most congested cities are under three miles, according to a recent INRIX report, which analyzed over 50 million trips. If a fraction of these trips were replaced by shared bikes and scooters, cities would experience less traffic, reduced emissions, and a boost to the local economy, according to the research group.

Of course, there is a darker side to this tech. Scooters clog narrow sidewalks, lay strewn in the middle of crosswalks, and have been known to force pedestrians into a hurdle race over these wheeled platforms. Meanwhile, ride-hailing firms like Uber and Lyft, which at their inception were hyped as traffic busters, admitted in August they are making congestion worse in some cities.

Indeed, harnessing the promise of these new forms of mobility, while mitigating the bad, has been a challenge for cities.

Which is why Portland, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Minneapolis, and others jumped to form OMF, whose mission is to govern the new Mobility Data Specification.

MDS, which was originally unveiled by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation last year, is a set of data specifications and data sharing requirements that force mobility companies to report basic data on the location and use of their equipment.

The principle is simple: If a city is going to manage its surface transportation network effectively, it better know where ‘stuff’ is.

But MDS alone won’t solve congestion. In order to leverage MDS data to mitigate traffic, cities will need a high definition map of the city, or as the latest “Technology Action Plan” [pdf] by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation describes it, a “digital infrastructure that mirrors the current hardscape and that gives transportation assets like curbs, streets, sidewalks, airspace, and subterranean space a digital identity.”

That’s right, code is the new concrete, and a key tenet of OMF’s mission is that the city is going to own and govern its digital twin.

“Going forward, each city must manage its own Digital Twin, which will provide the ground truth on which mobility services depend,” states the OMF bylaws [pdf].

The result is that all stakeholders—both cities and the private mobility companies—will operate off the same digital map, with MDS acting as the data and communication protocol.

For the first time, cities will be in a position to digitally, and actively manage private sector service providers.  For instance, a city could digitize their scooter policies directly into the digital twin—in other words, embed into the universal map rules like where and when scooters can park. Using the MDS protocol, the city could track precisely where and when scooters are operating and parking, even fining the scooter company or user when city policies are violated.

While MDS in its current form is focused on dockless e-scooters and bicycles, the good news is that it’s extendable to other types of digitized mobility like ride-hailing companies, and even autonomous vehicles.

In addition to supporting real-time management of mobility providers, officials also plan on using the digital twin as a digital testing ground to build and simulate a transportation system that could be exponentially more efficient than the existing network.

To seize this opportunity, OMF founding members are following LA’s lead, and working to build their digital infrastructure.

Indeed, the physical scale and unprecedented concentration of human beings in many cities have officials on edge, asking important questions about disease control, food production, education, housing, employment, migration, and transportation.

One thing is for sure, byzantine analog methods for managing transportation aren’t likely to cut it any longer. City officials need new tools and technologies that allow them to fulfill their role as planners, operators, investors, regulators, and enforcers of the surface transportation network.

It has been said that “technology is best when it brings people together.”

Let’s hope—in this case—the tech keeps us apart.


Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

U.S. Falling Behind in Smart City Deployments and Key 21st Century Infrastructure

Silicon Valley

Smart cities are either going to be the pinnacle of modern living or an Orwellian nightmare, but one thing seems for sure: the United States probably isn’t going to be the first to find out.

Recent reporting underscores that the United States has fallen behind its neighbors in both smart city deployments and 5G network rollouts—the latter of which is slated to be the connective tissue of these future cities. The news has some experts on edge.

“China is developing 500 smart cities – almost half of the world’s total and more than 10 times North America’s figure,” according to Graham Allison, the former director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, writing in a recent Axios article. In contrast, Allison continued, “the U.S. is developing 40 smart cities, less than 4% of the globe’s total.”

The IDC tells a similar story in the recently released “Worldwide Semiannual Smart Cities Spending Guide.” In the United States, only four cities (New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Chicago) are forecast to spend more than $300 million on smart city programs this year. Meanwhile, 11 cities in China will exceed the $300 million level in 2019.

What about the race to build 5G networks, which have faster speeds, higher throughput, and are considered the backbone of the internet of things, smart cities, and even autonomous vehicles?

The Defense Innovation Board, a who’s-who of tech royalty that advises the Defense Department, met in April and published a critical report on the country’s 5G effort, effectively confirming that Beijing has taken the lead.

“The country that owns 5G will own many of these innovations and set the standards for the rest of the world… [and] that country is currently not likely to be the United States,” wrote the board, which includes former Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and Walter Isaacson, a former chief executive of the Aspen Institute.

They have a point: according to patent analytics firm IPlytics [pdf], the United States is behind in the 5G patent race. The Chinese 5G market accounts for 34% of all 5G patents and technology; South Korea accounts for 25%.  Trailing behind those two countries are the United States and the European Union–both of which account for 14% of the 5G market.

I.P. ownership aside, the Unite States isn’t faring much better when it comes to building out 5G networks.

“If you count the launch of commercial service in any form, the U.S. is in front of China,” writes Elizabeth Woyke in a December article for the MIT Technology Review. Both countries have carriers that claim to have introduced early 5G services to a limited number of mobile customers.

On the other hand, Woyke continued, “if you think a country needs to roll out 5G to all its major cities in order to claim leadership, China looks likely to come out ahead.”

China Tower, a company that builds infrastructure for the country’s mobile operators, has said it can cover China with 5G within three years of the government’s allocation of spectrum.

“That points to national coverage by 2023,” warns Woyke. Based on the tone of the Defense Innovation Board report, it doesn’t seem likely the United States can compete with that timeline.

AT&T, for example, plans to cover nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population with 5G by 2021; Verizon has similar plans. However, at this point, there is no clear path to full national coverage in the United States.

Complicating the rollout in the United States are the 80 cities and counties suing the FCC over new rules designed to accelerate the buildout of America’s 5G infrastructure. The rules limit municipal authorities to charging $270 per cell site per year and also impose a “shot clock” limiting how long authorities can take to review installation requests.

The FCC argues that the new rules will free up $2 billion in capital for wireless providers to use in underserved areas like rural communities; cities are claiming the federal government has overstepped its bounds, undercutting local control of infrastructure.

Further slowing the 5G rollout in U.S. communities are health concerns. The service will require thousands of small cell antennas placed throughout cities, and critics have said that the radiation could increase the risk of cancer, fatigue, headaches and other effects—claims that lack scientific support.

The National Cancer Institute recently weighed in, summing up the field of concern by saying a “limited number of studies” showed evidence of a”“statistical association of cell phone use and brain tumor risks,” but added that “most studies have found no association.”

Long story short, it’s not looking so good for the United States right now. Underinvestment in smart city deployments—relative to other countries—coupled with a forecast of a long 5G rollout and low patent ownership is unnerving some experts.

Then again, there may be a silver lining to this tale. After all, in the event these cities do turn into Orwellian nightmares, who would want to be the first to find out anyway?


Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA and a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications. Both GTiMA and Mandli work with national, international and regional authorities to advance smart city standards, policies, and best practices – especially as they relate to the future of mobility. Robert is also an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. 

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Redefining Privacy in the Era of Connected Vehicles

The future of mobility will look and feel very different.  Want instant access to all your favorite TV shows so you can entertain your children wherever you go?  You got it.  How about access to directions, route changes, and knowledge of the intentions of all the vehicles around you?  Yup, consider it done.

Making this all possible is the world wide web, and the good news is 98% of all new vehicles in 2020 will be connected to the internet, with 100% expected by 2025.  However, along with the advantages of this connectivity, you get a mountain of privacy concerns.

The reality is that companies providing your in-car services – like entertainment and navigation services – will also have access to a slew of additional information about you, including how often you drive over the speed limit, how aggressively you drive generally, and where you go and how long you stay there; and that’s just for starters.  There is even talk of these service companies eavesdropping on your conversations or monitoring your emotions while you drive.

It’s unclear at this point how consumers will be able to keep these vehicles in check, but car companies can learn a great deal from the European Union’s (EU) latest attempts to regulate privacy.

On May 25, 2018, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect, ushering in key protections for consumers. For example, a data subject – that’s you enjoying your connected vehicle services – must be able to withdraw consent as easily as you gave it.

GDPR also forces companies to factor in privacy concerns at the outset of product development lifecycles. This forces companies to think early on about what data they need, and for what purposes.  In other words, they shouldn’t just arbitrarily start collecting data, then figure out how to monetize it down the road.

Consumers should be pleased with these developments, but the real question remains: how well are companies implementing these requirements?

According to a January 2019 Cisco Study, there is still room for improvement.  Only 59% of companies reported meeting the GDPR requirements seven months after it went into effect, even though they could see GDPR coming down the regulatory pipeline years ago.

The report also highlights some consequences for not living up to the GDPR. For starters, companies’ sales cycles suffered; those who failed to meet GDPR requirements saw a 60% delay in their average sales cycle.

Another problem companies faced was a jump in costs associated with data breaches – which it turns out were more likely to happen when GDPR standards were not followed. For instance, there was a 27% higher probability of a data breach costing $500k for companies that didn’t meet GDPR requirements.

GDPR aside, perhaps the best example of the costs associated with ignoring customer privacy concerns is Facebook. In the last year alone, Facebook had the biggest single-day loss in stock market history at over $100 billion dollars and was also forced to enter multi-billion dollar negotiations with the FTC over privacy issues.

You definitely don’t want to drive a mile down that road auto companies.

It’s pretty simple, actually: consumer privacy matters and car manufacturers better start taking this issue seriously.  If we’ve learned anything, customers will flock to companies that take their data, and by default their privacy, seriously.

So, consider this fair warning, auto industry: we want our in-car television service, but that’s all.

Nothing more; nothing less.


Eric Nutt is the Chief Technology Officer of Mandli Communications, Inc., and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Automated Vehicles.

Follow Eric on LinkedIn.


The Best Kept – and Dirtiest – Secret About 5G

The Trump administration unveiled a major push Friday to accelerate the rollout of 5G infrastructure.  Under the new plan, the Federal Communications Commission will release the largest trove of U.S. wireless spectrum ever to be auctioned off.  The FCC also proposed a $20 billion fund to expand broadband in rural America, connecting up to 4 million households and small businesses to high-speed internet.

The table is set; the meal, as in the buildout, comes next.  But the reality is we may not want to sit down for this dinner, because one of the best kept – and dirtiest – secrets about 5G is the energy consumption required to support the network.

“A lurking threat behind the promise of 5G delivering up to 1,000 times as much data as today’s networks is that 5G could also consume up to 1,000 times as much energy,” Dexter Johnson recently wrote for the IEEE Spectrum.

The infrastructure required to support 5G is going to be massive – beyond what most people can comprehend, including industry specialists.

Unlike the current 4G networks which rely on signals that transmit for miles by large cell towers, 5G will need small cell sites every few hundred feet to broadcast its short-range signals.

For some perspective, your typical wireless provider – like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint – have about 70,000 macro cell towers spread across the US.  That’s a huge number, but in return, you get near nationwide coverage.

For a fully built-out 5G network in Dallas, for example, the city will need a whopping 10,000 small cell sites.  That’s right, 10,000 antennas in just one city; keep in mind there are over 19,000 cities in the US.


But it turns out predicting the amount of energy required to power a 5G network is a hard thing to do.

As you deploy more small cells on top of the existing cellular infrastructure, the total energy consumption of the network will grow.  Even though energy consumption of a small cell is lower than a conventional macro cell – which will eventually be phased out – you need many more small cells to provide full coverage.

Exactly how many?  It’s still not clear, so making net 5G energy consumption predictions remains a challenge at this point.

That said, there aren’t a lot of reasons to be optimistic, according to Vetiv and technology analyst firm 451 Research, who recently surveyed over 100 global telecom operators.  More than 90 percent of respondents believe 5G will result in higher energy costs.

This result was also consistent with Vertiv’s internal analysis, which found that 5G could increase total network energy consumption by 150-170 percent by 2026.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however.  Some experts, like Emil Björnso, associate professor at Linkoping University, believe that power consumption should come down on 5G infrastructure over time.

“Just as computer processors become vastly more efficient over time, the analog and digital circuits that are used in base stations will become more efficient,” he recently told the IEEE Spectrum.  “The first generation of 5G hardware will be all about delivering all the new features to the market, but then there will be time to refine the hardware,” he continued.

Bottom line, it’s hard to know who to believe at this point, but let’s be real: this wouldn’t be the first time engineers built a solution to solve one set of problems, only to cause another set of problems.

Mining bitcoin today, for example, consumes more electricity than is generated by all of the world’s solar panels combined.  In other words, as David Wallace-Wells wrote in The Uninhabitable Earth, “In just a few years we’ve assembled, out of distrust of one another and the nations behind the ‘fiat currencies’, a program to wipe out the gains of several long, hard generations of green energy innovations.”

So yes, the 5G table is set, and improvements in speed, coverage, and reliability sound great, in principle.

But if these advances lead to higher energy consumption at precisely the moment in time when the world needs to cut and clean its energy consumption, then maybe this meal isn’t worth sitting for.


Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA, a tech and policy advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Automated Vehicles.  GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground .

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

2019 Already a Big Year for “Smart City” Development

Smart cities and all their fancy gadgets – like autonomous vehicles –  won’t magically appear. Cities have to plan for them, infrastructure must be built to support them, and regulations surrounding their operations must be set.

In this regard, if 2018 was the year of the smart city skeptic, as CityLab wrote in December, then 2019 may well be the year of a smart city revival.

For starters, there has been an uptick in smart city strategic planning, according to Roland Berger’s second smart city index, released in early March.

Despite “smart cities” being an agenda item in city halls for many years, the reality is that most cities haven’t been taking a strategic approach to their “smart” status.

This trend appears to be shifting, however. The number of cities with a smart city strategy has almost doubled in the past two years, rising from 87 to 153.

While that is a considerable jump, Roland Berger, a global consulting firm, warns that good strategy is only the first step; implementation is what really counts.

Seen that way, there is still plenty of room for improvement, as 90 percent of those cities surveyed still don’t have an integrated plan with a single entity in charge of coordinating work, and clear responsibilities for the different groups involved.

Cities that do have a central decision-making body, like Vienna with its Smart City Agency or London with its Chief Digital Officer, perform well on implementation and lead the rankings as a result.

Planning aside, 2019 is also turning out to be a pivotal year for the rollout of 5G technology—considered to be the connective tissue for the internet of things, smart cities, and even autonomous vehicles.

Unlike the current 4G networks, which rely on signals that transmit for miles by large cell towers, 5G will need small cell sites every few hundred feet to broadcast its short-range signals.

And if you’ve been paying attention to the headlines, the U.S. and China are locked in a heated battle over who will get the chance to build this next generation of telecommunication infrastructure, as all the major contracts to build out 5G networks across Europe and the U.S. will be signed in the next 6-18 months, according New York Times reporting.

Both superpowers realize that whoever controls these 5G networks has the advantage—in times of war and peace. After all, the 5G system is a physical network of switches and routers, and what is good for consumers is also good for intelligence services and cyberattackers.

To curtail Chinese companies from winning these buildout contracts, the Trump administration has pushed for a ban on Huawei technology in UK, Australia, Poland, the European Union, the Philippines, and a slew of other countries.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell sent a letter to the German government in early March, for instance, threatening to curtail German access to U.S. intelligence if Berlin decides to issue contracts to Huawei, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

While U.S. efforts to ban Huawei 5G technology overseas have stumbled, the US along with Australia, Japan, and Taiwan have all decided to ban and phase out the company’s products.

The Trump administration is doubling down on the Huawei ban by also promoting elements of a leaked memo from the National Security Council to the White House on his 2020 campaign trail, which called for an unprecedented federal takeover of a portion of the nation’s mobile network to pay for and build a nationalized 5G network.

Key to Trump’s domestic strategy is a set of new federal regulations aimed at streamlining 5G infrastructure installation by limiting the authority of US cities.

The FCC in September 2018 passed a controversial set of rules—much of which went into effect on January 15—which limits municipal authorities to charging $270 per cell site per year and also imposes a “shot clock” limiting how long authorities can take to review installation requests.

The FCC argues that the new rules will free up $2 billion in capital for wireless providers to use in underserved areas like rural communities.

The new rules drew immediate protest from cities and counties around the country, and by October over 20 local governments took legal action and filed three separate suits. Each case makes the same basic argument against the FCC, claiming the federal government has overstepped its bounds and undercut local control of infrastructure issues.

Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler has called the FCC order a “land grab against local infrastructure.”

Today, more than 80 cities and counties have filed lawsuits against the FCC, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco is expected to render a decision in the lead case in April.

So to all the smart city skeptics out there, 2019, while it doesn’t scream smart city revolution, is already showing signs of significant smart city evolution.

Not only are cities cranking on their “smart” plans, but the US-China 5G war is heating up and U.S cities are in the throes of challenging – and by default shaping – the next generation of telecom rules that may, or not, accelerate the rapid deployment of key smart city technologies and services.

Oh yeah, and it’s only April.


Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA, a tech and policy advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Automated Vehicles.  GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground .

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Let’s Hope Trump Considers Infrastructure a National Security Issue Too

Over and over again, when President Donald Trump has tried to make monumental change to U.S. policy, he has—pardon the pun—trumpeted the same justification: national security.

This tactic has been predictably divisive. Slapping tariffs on U.S. allies under a flimsy national security pretext nearly crippled an already weakened World Trade Organization; the Muslim travel ban to protect Americans from terrorists divided the country and frayed U.S. relations; and the ongoing border-wall debacle has forced hundreds of thousands of federal employees to go without pay.

“It’s his universal solvent,” said Bobby Chesney, a national security law expert at the University of Texas Austin, referring to the administration’s inclination to cite national security to justify major policy moves.[i]

But maybe, just maybe, Trump might also be willing to consider the decaying condition of U.S. infrastructure a matter of national security. And if Congress played along, perhaps we’d finally get a comprehensive infrastructure bill.

It’s actually not a radical proposition: infrastructure—specifically the National System of Interstate Highways—got its jump start as a national security issue.

In 1919, a 28-year-old Lt Colonel and West Point graduate volunteered to join a motor-vehicle caravan across the country. It was just the adventure this young officer needed—he had missed out on all the action in the Great War, assigned instead of combat to overseeing a stateside training camp. His name was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

What was then called the War Department was increasingly excited about the automobiles possibilities as a tool for combat, and a cross country convoy offered a chance to explore the capabilities of these new cars and trucks.

There was just one problem: a car without roads is like a bobsled without ice. “To those that have known only concrete and macadam highways of gentle grades and engineered curves, such a trip might seem humdrum,” wrote the future president in his memoir. “In those days, we were not sure it could be accomplished at all. Nothing of the sort had ever been attempted.”[ii]

In 1904, the United States had a grand total of 141 miles of paved roads, not counting city streets.[iii] By 1916, the federal government threw its weight into road building and created the Bureau of Public Roads, endowed with $75 million to hand out to states to help build interstate highways.[iv] The nations surfaced road mileage nearly doubled between 1914 to 1926, from 257,291 miles to 521,915 miles.[v] Nonetheless, when the caravan set off from Washington DC at 11:15 am on July 71919, the convoy managed to advance only 46 miles that first day; on some days, the convoy progressed only three miles.[vi]

Fast forward 25 years, Eisenhower had risen to become commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, and he was deeply impressed by the German autobahns. Not only was the road network an impressive engineering feat with their banked curves and divided highways, but in wartime it was much more resilient than rail lines, allowing German forces to maneuver behind their lines swiftly even when the railways had been compromised.

When Eisenhower was elected president in 1952, he took those lessons with him to the White House. “After seeing the autobahns of modern Germany…I decided as president to put an emphasis on the kind on this kind of road building,” he later wrote. “The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.”[vii]

Even so, it took a couple of years and several unsuccessful attempts to get Congress to fund a National System of Interstate Highways. Although boosted by public support—72% of American families owned cars by the mid-1950s—there was also the cold war argument that the roads were essential to national defense. If the Russians shot nukes at U.S. cities, the argument went, freeways would help millions of civilians evacuate quickly. To drive home the point, the project was renamed the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.[viii]

Congress finally passed a bill to fund interstates in 1956, an act that would allocate 25 billion to build 41,000 miles of roads. When the U.S. interstate highway system was completed in 1991—nearly 20 years behind schedule—it stretched 46,876 miles and cost nearly $130 billion.[ix] At the time, it was the biggest public works project in American history and for a time the envy of much of the world.

That was then.

By 2015, U.S. road quality was ranked 14th, according to the World Economic Forum, behind countries like the UAE, Singapore and Portugal.[x] America’s roads today are often crowded, frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded and are becoming more dangerous. More than $2 trillion is needed to repair 4 million miles of roads in the United States, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.[xi]

Despite this unfortunate turn of events, polarization in Congress this decade has neutered its ability to pass a comprehensive infrastructure bill. Optimist believe 2019 could be different, however.

“Over the past month, it’s been frequently observed that infrastructure is a subject that’s especially ripe for bipartisan legislation,” Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said in December. “This administration will continue to work with Congress to enhance existing infrastructure programs.”[xii]

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the new chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he intends to have infrastructure policy legislation ready by summertime. The plan, DeFazio explained, would include a nationwide vehicle-miles-traveled pilot program, which many believe will add additional revenue streams to fund road repairs.

“There’s ways we could make the existing infrastructure carry people better, while we invest in the new infrastructure,” DeFazio said in December.[xiii]

Bottom line, it’s time to get a comprehensive infrastructure bill passed, Mr. President and Chairman DeFazio. And if you need to, use national security as an excuse.

Eisenhower did it.




Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA, a senior tech and policy advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Automated Vehicles.  GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground .

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.


[i] Restuccia, A. (2019, January 8). ‘It’s his universal solvent’: How Trump sidelines Congress by invoking national security. Politico. Retrieved January 9, 2019 from

[ii] Dwight D. Eisenhower,At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (Doubleday, 1967), 157.

[iii] “Highways History, Part 1,” Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century, National Academy of Engineering,

[iv] Tom Lewis, Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013), 339-49, 532.

[v] “Roads,”,

[vi] Vince Beiser,The World in a Grain (Riverhead Books, 2018), 50-1.

[vii] Eisenhower,At Ease, 166-7.

[viii] Richard F. Weingroff, “The Year of the Interstate,” Public Roads, January-February 2006.

[ix] “Interstate Frequently Asked Questions,” Federal Highway Administration,

[x] The Global Economy. (2015). Roads Quality – Country Ranking. Retrieved from

[xi] Sudo, C. (2017, November 28). America’s Roads are Crumbling and Packed with Cars. Forbes. Retrieved January 9, 2019 from

[xii] Lamb, E. (2018, December 11). DOT Announces BUILD Grant Recipients. Transport Topics. Retrieved January 8, 2019 from

[xiii] Mulero, E. (2019, January 3). Trump, Congress Eye Possibility of Infrastructure Bill in 2019. Transport Topics. Retrieved January 9, 2019 from

Singapore sets standards for Autonomous Vehicles

Singapore has released a set of national standards to guide the safe development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.

The standards, known as Technical Reference 68 (TR 68), were developed under the purview of the Singapore Standards Council (SSC).  Four working groups were formed comprising representatives from the AV industry, research institutions, universities and government agencies to cover four key areas: vehicle behavior, vehicle functional safety, cybersecurity, and data formats.

These efforts were also supported by Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA), according to a joint press release.

TR 68 relates to the safe deployment of Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) Level 4 and 5 vehicles.  At these levels, the vehicle is fully autonomous in limited and all driving scenarios, respectively.

“In addition to safety, TR 68 provides a strong foundation that will ensure interoperability of data and cybersecurity that are necessary for the deployment of AVs in an urban environment. The TR 68 will also help to build up the AV ecosystem including startups and SMEs as well as testing, inspection and certification service providers,” said Choy Sauw Kook, director-general at Enterprise Singapore.

Responding to queries from Channel News Asia, the group said that TR 68 could be the first such national standard of its kind in the world.

“Currently, there are related ISO standards and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe regulations on specific topics concerning automated vehicles such as safety, cybersecurity, and messaging formats,” they said.

“Based on industry feedback, this could be the first such national standard in the world,”  the group continued.

Mr. Doug Parker, chief operating officer of Aptiv Autonomous Mobility, said the company is happy to have contributed to the standards as “it will facilitate the commercialization of autonomous vehicles” in Singapore.

Aptiv, a Delphi spin-off, bought US autonomous driving start-up nuTonomy in 2017, which has an office in Singapore.

As a provisional standard, TR 68 will continue to undergo refinement as AV technology matures, with feedback from the industry. The feedback gathered will be used to review TR 68 as it is eventually expanded to cover other aspects of AV development and deployment.

TR 68 documentation can be purchased from the Singapore Standards eShop.


Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA, a senior tech and policy advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Automated Vehicles.  GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground .

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

USDOT Announces 2018 Build Grant Recipients

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao yesterday announced $1.5 billion in discretionary grant funding to 91 projects in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

View Build Grants on 

The grants are made through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Grants program and support road, rail, transit, and port infrastructure projects across the country.

“There’s a lot of need for investments in infrastructure across the country,” Chao said. “The project awards announced [Dec. 11] are one dimension of ongoing administration efforts to increase improvements of America’s infrastructure.”

The BUILD grants replaced the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which was popular with state and local agencies.

Breaking from the past, the USDOT prioritized rural projects. Though 59 percent of the applications were for rural projects, 62 projects were awarded to rural grant applications.

The TIGER grant program under the Obama Administration, conversely, typically favored urban walking, biking and transit projects.

Among the recipients of this year’s BUILD grants was Brown County, Wisconsin, which was awarded $19,757,899 – for a project estimated to cost $27,828,150.

The project will eliminate the only remaining at-grade intersection along Brown County’s portion of the STH 29 corridor at County Highway VV and U, replacing it with a full-access interchange with sidewalks, stripped on-street bike lanes, and roundabouts at the ramp terminals and nearby intersections.

The project will also install an ITS changeable message board to inform drivers of delays as they enter the Green Bay urbanized area, as well as extends fiber/broadband to rural communities.

“It was super competitive,” said Deputy DOT Secretary Jeffrey Rosen. He said the department received 851 applications, which sought a total of $11 billion–far more than the amount available.

Project applications were evaluated by a team of 222 career staff in the Department and selected based on established criteria.

The criteria included safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, environmental protection, and state of good repair. Further criteria included innovation, such as projects supporting Autonomous Vehicles infrastructure, broadband service to underserved communities, as well as projects that demonstrate partnerships between the public and private sectors, and non-Federal revenue for transportation infrastructure investments.

Chao also expressed hope that, in the coming year, lawmakers will reach a bipartisan infrastructure initiative.

“Over the past month, it’s been frequently observed that infrastructure is a subject that’s especially ripe for bipartisan legislation,” Chao said. “This administration will continue to work with Congress to enhance existing infrastructure programs.”

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior tech and policy advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Autonomous Vehicles: Planners Aren’t Planning, Just Reacting

When it comes to planning for transformative technologies like autonomous vehicles, urban planners – whose job it is to project and prioritize transportation investments – have fallen behind and the consequences could be severe.

Only one quarter of 38 cities surveyed by a recent Bloomberg study prioritized AV planning in the last year, and fewer than one in ten cities have been working on AVs for more than three years.

These results come on the heels of a National League of Cities report, which conducted a content analysis of city and regional transportation planning documents from the 50 most populous cities, as well as the largest cities in every state – a total of 68 communities.

Only six percent of transportation plans, at that time, even considered the potential effects of driverless technology, and only three percent of plans took into account private transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber or Lyft, even though TNC’s operate in 60 of the 68 markets.

“We have discovered a widening gap between innovation in the private sector, the expressed preferences of citizens, and the visions of city planners regarding transportation investment,” the NLC concluded.

Whether you live in a city or not, these findings should be cause for concern because experts believe connected and automated vehicles could be the key to solving some of our most pressing urban and regional problems.

Take the environment, for instance:  Transportation has surpassed all other sectors as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emission, and 60 percent of all transportation spawned emissions come from light-duty vehicles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But there is hope.  By 2050, connected and autonomous vehicles could lead to a 44 percent reduction in fuel consumption, according to a recent Energy Information Agency report.  And the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released a report, along with a plan of action for vehicle electrification, automation, and ride-sharing in urban areas, where they estimate the potential ceiling for reducing carbon emissions from automobiles at an astonishing 80 percent.

AV tech could also save lives – lots of them.  Car accidents killed 37,461 people in 2016, up 5.6% from 2015, according to the latest data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  That’s the equivalent of one 747 plane crashing every two weeks.

Even the intermediate steps of introducing level one and two advanced driver assist systems, however, is paying off.  Vehicles with automatic emergency braking, for example, see a 40% reduction in rear-end collisions, which is the number one traffic incident in the US.

But urban planners need to be mindful of the darker side of autonomous vehicles as well.

As for congestion, “autonomous vehicles will increase – not decrease – traffic in downtown areas,” according to a recent joint World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group report.  While AVs will reduce the number of cars and overall travel time around cities as a whole, the study discovered the effect is not evenly distributed.  Concentrated downtown areas will potentially see an uptick in congestion.

And if cars get so smart they stop running red lights, speeding, or parking illegally, city officials expect a significant reduction in their city budgets, according to Governing, which conducted the first national analysis of how city revenues might be affected by AVs.

Parking fees are a critical funding source for the Austin Transportation Department, for example, accounting for nearly a quarter of its total budget.  Austin’s transportation director, Robert Spillar was hit by a realization last year.  “Half my revenue for transportation capacity and operations improvements is based on a parking model that may be obsolete in a dozen years,” he told Governing.

Bottom line,  it’s easy to get distracted by the technology –  after all, AVs are the bright new shiny object in the room.  But, we have to remember that it’s not about the technology;  it’s about solving problems.

Engineers build tools to solve problems – that is their contribution to society.  The role of the urban planner, on the other hand, is to find innovative ways to prescribe those tools so that, indeed, problems get solved.

So, planners; start planning.   Harness the good that AV tech has to offer, and mitigate the bad.

Otherwise, you will just be reacting.


Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior tech and policy advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Blockchains, Smart Contracts, and the Future Of Transportation Security

Tomorrow’s vehicles will be computers on wheels, connected to each other, the infrastructure, and the internet.

While officials across the country tout the potential benefits of this increased connectivity, it is also the source of considerable anxiety.  Protecting these vehicles from hackers is turning out to be a hard nut to crack, but some experts at the U.S.DOT believe blockchain could be the magic bullet.

“Cybersecurity is a major concern,” remarked U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao while addressing a packed room at the Autonomous Vehicle Symposium on July 10, 2018.  “The hacking of AV software could result in privacy violations, theft, or even the acquisition of a vehicle by terrorists,” she continued.

If you think Secretary Chao’s warnings are speculative, think again:  there have been 1.4 million vehicles impacted by the first, and only, cybersecurity-related recall, which occurred in 2015 when Fiat Chrysler recalled vehicles after researchers used a wireless connection to turn off a Jeep Cherokee’s engine as it drove.

But what Secretary Chao failed to mention was a recent report by the U.S. DOT John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, which examines various blockchain applications in transportation – including blockchain’s potential for preventing cyber-attacks on automated vehicles.

With vehicles continuously connected to their surroundings, the report notes, “the attack surface for hackers is broad, touching most in-vehicle systems via a wide range of external networks such as Wi-Fi, cellular networks, service garages, toll roads, fuel stations, traffic lights, and aftermarket devices.”

The report’s conclusion: blockchain’s inherent value proposition of immutable transactions, and decentralized consensus through transparent nodes, may have a role to play in certain aspects of securing automobiles form cyberattacks.

For instance, vehicles are produced with more and more electronic control units – from 30 to 100 in automated vehicles – and each unit’s operating system will likely be updated over the air.  When receiving these updates from potentially unsafe Wi-Fi networks at fuel stations, homes, dealers, etc., blockchain can validate the authenticity of these critical peer-to-peer software updates, instead of relying on the central server of an automotive components manufacturer.

Another aspect of AV security resides in the supply chain, where original equipment manufacturers typically integrate hundreds of components they receive from multiple suppliers around the world, often unaware of security flaws in these components.  Blockchain could serve as a trusted ledger of maintenance activities performed on these components throughout their lifetime.

While blockchain is not particularly new technology, its application to the world of transport is relatively nascent.

A blockchain is a digital, openly shared, immutable, and a decentralized log of transactions.  The concept was introduced in the late 2000’s as a virtual scaffolding for transactions using the digital currency bitcoin.

The idea behind bitcoin was to remove banks from financial transactions, by allowing non-trusting members to interact over a network in a verified way without a trusted intermediary.

Every bitcoin transaction is stored on a blockchain that is continuously updated across a network of thousands of computers.  Consequently, if you want to sell a piece of art to your neighbor, for example, you can verify that your neighbor indeed possesses the requisite amount of bitcoin, and execute the transaction, all without the involvement of a bank.

Though blockchains were made for finance, smart contracts make blockchains applicable beyond finance, to industries like transportation.

Smart contracts, according to another Volpe Center report, are software, not actual contracts.  But like a contract, they set parameters that parties to a transaction agree upon.  Terms of the agreement are written directly into lines of code, and smart contracts refer to blockchains as a source of truth.

It is precisely these smart contracts that enable blockchain to, for instance, validate the authenticity of peer-to-peer software updates, or act as a trusted ledger of maintenance activities performed on vehicle components.  The parameters for each of these transactions – or over the air software updates – can be baked directly into the code, and confirmed for their validity.

The technology does have it’s limitations, however, which is why the Volpe report is careful to note that blockchain’s effectiveness in securing automobiles is limited to certain situations.  “The time required for participating mining nodes to come into consensuses of transaction blocks is several minutes,” according to the report.  For critical updates that need to happen in mere seconds, blockchain might not be suitable.  On the other hand, “use of blockchain for overnight updates would be appropriate,” the report concluded.

Regardless of whether or not blockchain is the silver bullet against vehicle cyber-threats, one thing is for sure: traditional enterprise security strategies, which have focused on cutting off outside access, are not optimal for automated vehicles, where secure systems within the vehicle must interact with many other secure systems.

Building a walled garden, figuratively speaking, is no longer an option.  But a chained-linked fence – like blockchain – just might be the solution.


Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior tech and policy advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.