Foothill Project: Automating the Highway
Monitoring and control of private vehicles on the public highway is high on the political agenda; this is because it is becoming feasible, and may be desirable for at least two reasons: first, from the economic perspective, it may achieve more efficient use of road resources; second, from the safety perspective, it may achieve a significant drop in injury and death on the roads. Various prototypes exist, and various projects are current. Many technologies interact, and there are numerous legal, political and economic stakeholders. We propose a foothill project to study monitoring and control with particular concern for efficiency and safety, in the context of ubiquitous systems for transport. For efficiency (of road use) the monitoring and control may be either distributed or centralised, or a combination of the two. In a distributed system the car receives information from navigation systems and roadside monitors concerning routes, conditions and prices; it (or its driver) then makes a decision and pays. on the other hand a centralised system, such as the London congestion-charging scheme, depends entirely on a network of roadside monitors, recording data about vehicles, drivers and journeys on a central database used as the basis for billing. 1
To improve safety, there a spectrum of possible solutions from distributed to centralised systems. At the centralised extreme, `car-trains' have been proposed; vehicles joining trunk routes would be logically clumped, and controlled by a single aggregate unit. At the distibuted extreme, each vehicle always chooses its own velocity, using data from on-board and remote sensors. There are many research problems; for example:
- What are the design spaces for distributed and/or centralised systems in the two cases? Can they me mixed, e.g. distributed for efficiency of road-use but centralised for safety?
- By what measures can each solution in the space be assessed for its contribution to both efficiency and safety?
- In each possible design, what threats arise from neglect or malevolence? These threats may attack endanger correct technical function, or they may endanger privacy (for example, centralised records may be illegally mined to deduce driver habits).
Success in addressing these problems will involve a variety of theoretical or simulational models of distributed and mobile processes; and will prompt the further development of such models.
A longer paper addressing these issues is also available.