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As incredible as it may seem, many industry thought-leaders project that nearly all vehicular traffic will be autonomous by 2050.

A New Era in Transportation

In the not-so-distant past, the notion of having instantaneous access to a world of all-encompassing information via a device no larger than a deck of cards would be considered the stuff of science fiction. Today, smart phones provide us just that and more – a doorway to an encyclopedic wellspring of information, all at a touch of the fingertips.

Advances in technology are now driving a new era in transportation. Starting 10 years ago, auto manufacturers began dazzling consumers with an array of new features, including GPS navigation, rear-view cameras, and assisted parking, to name a few. These features have rapidly become the norm, and the latest models offer even more – crash avoidance and lane departure warnings, emergency braking, and other innovations and safety enhancements.

Importantly, technological developments also have furthered the concept of autonomous vehicles to the point where they are no longer the dream of a few inquisitive forward thinking automotive engineers, but are actually approaching broad deployment.

With Texas’ population expected to grow to at least 40 million people by 2050 – and a corresponding number of registered vehicles to grow to 35 million or more – a central question for urban planners and others is, how can we harness these technological breakthroughs to help manage the movement of people and goods in an efficient and sustainable manner?

Million Texans by 2050
Million Registered Vehicles by 2050

Self-driving vehicles are nothing new. For years, the auto industry has been conducting research and testing driverless cars. Ford, GM and Toyota, among others, have been at the forefront of such research, evaluating the role of robotics, telematics and autonomous (AV) technology. Add to the mix the advent of ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber, and the transportation sector is on the cusp of transformative change.

Smart Cars, Smart Roads

A key element in this transformation is the integration of technology inside cars with an advanced mobility infrastructure. Transportation planners are developing intelligent roads that include high-tech features such as roadside sensor technology and other equipment to monitor traffic flow and speed, and report inclement weather conditions and other hazards. Sophisticated systems that connect roads with vehicles will soon communicate with vehicles, letting them known ahead of time about accidents and problem areas such as construction zones. Sharing such real-time information will in turn allow vehicles to change their route and avoid congestion.

Roadside Sensors

Traffic Flow & Speed

Weather & Hazards

Smart Mobility Planning in Texas Cities is Underway

The Smart Cities movement is making its way across Texas. Cities like Arlington, Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio have engaged in evaluating and planning for technologies to increase the efficiency of civic infrastructure. A Smart City ecosystem can improve emergency response, mobility, education, security, health and well being. As cities grow, they are facing challenges in which status quo practices are no longer an option. Cities are looking to using new technologies to transform their core systems.

Cities and regions across Texas are partnering with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Transportation Research (CTR), and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to form the Texas Automated Vehicle (AV) Proving Ground Partnership. The statewide partnership will put Texas on the path to becoming the nation’s first “Smart State,” which aims to create a platform for innovation to address community challenges.


Austin was selected in February 2017 as a recipient of the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant. Austin will receive a tailored Readiness Workshop during 2017 to develop a roadmap for using smart technology to create a comprehensive, inclusive and innovative strategy within the community. Austin will use new technologies to meet old challenges of mobility and affordability.


Dallas is one of 25 cities participating in the Smart Cities Initiative and the city has launched Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA). The DIA is a public-private partnership dedicated to the design and execution of a smart cities plan for the City of Dallas, leveraging social and technological infrastructures to accelerate sustainable economic growth, resource efficiency, and improve the quality of life for its citizens.


Houston has incorporated existing and new tactics to increase access to transportation, new standards for development and enhanced infrastructure. Houston METRO has overhauled the bus routes and created a real-time bus tracking smartphone app. These efforts have led to an increase in transportation.


San Antonio is among 10 U.S. communities that have been chosen by Envision America 2017 to take part in this year’s Smart City initiative. The program will help participating cities explore new ways to use technology to make municipal government more effective, sustainable and responsive. The SA City Council approved funding to support smart city initiatives in the areas of transportation, sustainability and digital connected living.

The Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership Earns USDOT Recognition

Arlington- University of Texas at Arlington

The Austin Area – City of Austin, Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, Capital METRO, the Capital Area MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization)

Bryan/College Station – City of Bryan, City of College Station, and Brazos Valley Council of Governments

Corpus Christi – City of Corpus Christi and the Corpus Christi MPO

The El Paso Area – City of El Paso, County of El Paso, and Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, and the El Paso MPO

The Houston Area – Houston METRO, City of Houston, Harris County, Port of Houston, Houston-Galveston Area Council, Texas Medical Center, University of Houston

The San Antonio Area – City of San Antonio, VIA Transit, the Alamo Area MPO, Joint Base San Antonio

In early 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated 10 regions/organizations nationally as AV proving grounds. The Texas Proving Ground Partnership, as one of ten around the country, will help the state compete for private and public support for the development and deployment of automated vehicle technologies.

Consumer Safety & Convenience

The benefits of autonomous vehicles are numerous, but the singular driving force behind their development is consumer safety. For example, many self-driving cars have control systems capable of analyzing sensory data to differentiate cars on the road – vital information for planning the most desirable route to a destination.

SAE International is a global association of 128,000 engineers and technical experts advancing commercial vehicle in automotive engineering. The organization recently published a report defining six levels of driving automation, from no automation to full automation. A key distinction is between Level 2, in which human drivers perform some dynamic driving tasks – such as steering, braking, accelerating, deciding when to change lanes, use turn signals, etc. – and Level 3, in which an automated system performs these and many other functions.

For a detailed overview of the technologies, regulatory environment, and status of autonomous vehicles, read this report from the International Transport Forum’s Corporate Partnership Board.

In the simplest of terms, an autonomous vehicle is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human involvement. Driverless cars can detect their surroundings through deployment of various systems and sensors, such as radar, lidar, GPS, odometry, and computer vision. Some of these technologies already can be seen in late-model vehicles driven by humans, including rear-view cameras, collision detection sensors, automated parallel parking, and adaptive cruise control systems.

SAE International Automated Driving Standards

SAE Level Name Steering Monitoring Fallback System Capability
Human Monitors Environment


No Automation

The full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems.


Driver Assistance

The driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.

Some Driving Modes


Partial Automation

The driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.

  Some Driving Modes
Car Monitors Environment


Conditional Automation

The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.

    Some Driving Modes


High Automation

The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.

      Some Driving Modes


Full Automation

The full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver.

      All Driving Modes

Source: Adapted from SAE Standard J3016 (SAE, 2014).

Auto Collisions Caused by Human Error

Studies have shown that more than 90 percent of auto collisions are caused by human error. Self-driving cars have a strong potential for eliminating such mistakes, reducing traffic accidents and the resulting fatalities, injuries, and related costs.

Autonomous vehicles also will enhance mobility for blind and disabled citizens, as well as the elderly, through cooperative arrangements with ride-sharing programs.

Fewer cars on the road also means reduced traffic congestion, which translates to less fuel consumption, and in turn less air pollution due to a smaller carbon footprint. Fewer vehicles also would significantly reduce the number of parking spaces in cities, freeing space for other public and private uses, and pave the way for expanding new business models for enhanced mobility, such as car-sharing, ride hailing services, and other services contributing to reduced car ownership.

The opportunities for new business models and other applications of autonomous vehicle technologies is virtually limitless.

For More Information

Driverless Trucks Platooning
Carpooling Options and Ride-Sharing Apps

Benefits of AVs:

Enhanced Mobility for Blind, Disabled, and Elderly Citizens

Potentially Fewer Cars on the Road

Reduced Traffic Congestion

Fewer Parking Spaces Needed

New Business Models for Enhanced Mobility Sector

Additional Car Sharing and Ride Hailing Services

Less Fuel Consumption

Reduced Tail Pipe Emissions

New Collaborations Driven by New Technologies

The various technologies driving the growth and development of autonomous vehicles is moving at a feverish pace and in several directions simultaneously. As would be expected, car makers, including Ford, GM, and Toyota, and others all intend to deliver self-driving cars in the near future – within five years or less. Automakers have assembled teams of researchers and dedicated significant funds to develop and test AV technologies, and are rapidly making progress on numerous fronts.



Tech Companies


One of the most exciting developments is the collaboration between automakers, technology companies, government, and academia, and others that has already begun to introduce autonomous cars into our lives. Such public-private collaborations are seen as a vital component for moving the concept of self-driving cars out of the boardroom and onto the showroom floor.

For example, General Motors bought self-driving startup Cruise. Ford made its presence felt in the autonomous vehicle realm by opening a Silicon Valley R&D office in 2015 so it could be closer to startups. The company also invested in Civil Maps, which translates gobs of LIDAR data into maps for self-driving cars. Ford also invested in Velodyne, a leading developer, manufacturer, and supplier of real-time LiDAR sensor technology used in a variety of applications including autonomous vehicles and vehicle safety systems. Toyota has invested $1 billion to establish an AI research office in the U.S., buying stakes in related companies, including Jaybridge Robotics, an autonomous vehicle company.

        Velodyne    Jaybridge Robotics

Transportation Innovations Merit Thoughtful Regulation

Though the many societal benefits of autonomous vehicles are clear, a change of this magnitude has understandably led to a cautious attitude among policymakers and regulators. Complicating matters is that these changes are not being made in a vacuum, but rather in tandem with the development of smart transportation networks that will connect cars to each other and the world around them.

Federal Government's Stance

While generally supportive of autonomous vehicles, the federal government, through the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has taken a flexible approach approach to driverless cars.

The agency has issued a broad review that identifies potential barriers and challenges for certifying the safety of driverless vehicles, and has developed broad guidelines to for automakers and other entities for the “design, development, testing, and deployment” of autonomous vehicles.

Beyond that, NHTSA has allowed individual states to take the lead in addressing concerns over safety, insurance liability, privacy of data collection, and other matters.

In response, several states have already passed legislation defining driverless vehicle operation, creating driver license endorsement for autonomous vehicle operators, and provided funding to study into how self-driving cars can help reduce accidents, alleviate highway congestion and improve fuel economy.

Another 15 states are debating legislation to establish similar guidelines for AVs and smart roads.

Possible State of Texas Legislation

Defining Driverless Vehicle Operation and Operators

Adoption of SAE-like AV Standards into Texas Law

Development of Statewide Operating Rules for AVs

Smart Mobility Texas seeks as much flexibility as possible in state laws to ensure advancement in technology is allowed to flourish, while enhancing driver and pedestrian safety.

Founding Members

Smart Mobility Texas is a new coalition launched in 2017 dedicated to providing information to the public and policymakers on transforming Texas’ transportation markets and to promote smart cars, intelligent roads, and smart cities of the future. Our founding members are Ford, General Motors, Gulf States Toyota and Toyota Motor North America.

General Motors
Gulf States Toyota
Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.
GM/Chevrolet car
Courtesy of GM/Chevrolet
Toyota Photo
Courtesy of Toyota Research Institute.

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