Transformational, or “disruptive” technologies, are those that can be expected to completely displace the status quo, forever changing the way we live and work. Common examples include the internet, the personal computer, email, and the smart phone. The development of the internal combustion engine is an example of a disruptive technology in the transportation sector.
More current examples of transformational technologies in transportation include connected and automated vehicles, bicycle sharing in urban centers, car sharing (e.g. Car2Go and Zipcar), on-demand shared ride services (such as Uber and Lyft), hybrid and other alternative-fueled vehicles, drones, e-retailing, and 3D printing. All of these are facilitated and further complicated by the “Internet of Things” – where systems are connected through embedded sensors and transmitters. The acquisition of real-time data on the infrastructure, vehicles, drivers, and goods will provide unprecedented opportunities to monitor the performance of our transportation systems.
Each of these technologies is the subject of a good deal of research, but collectively they will change the nature and role of the future Department of Transportation. Transformational technologies will impact the way we plan, design, construct, operate, and maintain our transportation systems. DOTs must prepare for an uncertain future and build a workforce with considerably different skill sets. The NCHRP has developed a research roadmap for connected and automated vehicles (through NCHRP Project 20-24(98)) and is carrying out a program of research to address identified needs. However, there are other transformational technologies that need to be studied and better understood.
There is a need to understand how transportation agencies will be impacted by transformational technologies in order to provide them with the information they need to develop strategic goals and objectives by analyzing the current issues and state of knowledge, identifying gaps and needs, and outlining a program of research to address those gaps and needs.
The objective of this research is to develop a research roadmap on transformational technologies and their impacts on state and local departments of transportation. A research roadmap is a type of strategic plan that outlines the key issues in an area, identifies research gaps that constrain effective decision-making, and outlines specific research projects needed to address these gaps.
The initial phase of this work is to support TRB’s Partners in Research Symposium: Transformational Technologies in Transportation through NCHRP Project 20-113A (link below). Upon completion, the panel will determine how best to use the remaining resources.