The future of transportation technology

By Adam Curtis

At TechFestNW, the transit track presented ideas on how technology is, and could be, used to create a safer, smarter, more ecologically friendly, more equitable and overall better transportation infrastructure and systems.

Among the presenters were:

Nat Parker – CEO of moovel North America

Nicole Rennalls – Innovation Manager at Tektronix

David Block-Schachter – CTO of the MBTA

David Bragdon – Executive Director of TransitCenter

Given its prominence in current national discourse, and recent news coverage for the fatality in Arizona, autonomous vehicles and their impact on society were a major focus. The loose consensus was that an autonomous transportation system could make society more productive and equitable. The biggest hurdle is on the cultural/regulatory side of the equation as we try and collectively figure out how much autonomous error we are comfortable with and how we will have to redesign urban, suburban and exurban spaces to accommodate the new technology.

In relation to autonomous vehicles, connectivity of transportation systems will be a new frontier for technology. Smart roads talking to smart cars. Government entities making data open and available for private (and competing) transit startups.

The extent to which we’ve overstated the tech revolution on transportation was also discussed. David Bragdon of the TransitCenter proposed that the revolution of ride hailing apps like Uber and Lyft aren’t in the mobile technology, but in the regulatory changes they’ve precipitated. His co-presenter, David Block-Schachter, summed it up well by stating, “The goal is to give people equitable access to get to where they need to go. Sometimes this means getting technology the hell out of the way.”