The crisis of traffic deaths continues to plague U.S. roadways. According to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) published earlier this month, 42,939 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roads in 2021—the greatest number of fatalities since 2005. Pedestrian fatalities in 2021 increased 13% from 2020. These worrying numbers bring attention to the imperative for transportation safety technologies—like lidar —to become commonplace on vehicles and infrastructure.
Accordingly, the U.S Department of Transportation’s announcement of a funding opportunity under the Safe Streets and Roads for All (“SS4A”) grant program is welcome news. SS4A grants were established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to improve roadway safety by reducing or eliminating roadway fatalities and series injuries and is focused on all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, motorists, personal conveyance and micro mobility users, and commercial vehicle operators. The program makes available $5 billion in funding appropriated over 5 years. This Notice of Funding Opportunity makes available up to $1,177,213,000 for FY23 grants.
Lidar is a prime example of the type of technology that USDOT envisions as a component of a project or strategy that would be eligible for funding under the SS4A program. For example, USDOT identifies promoting the adoption of innovative technologies or strategies to promote safety and protect vulnerable road users in high-traffic areas where commercial motor vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, etc. interact as an activity eligible for funding. Funding for pilot programs that demonstrate safety benefits of technologies not yet adopted in a community is also an example of an eligible activity.
Members of the Lidar Coalition are already using this technology to improve roadway safety and reduce fatalities and injuries. Examples of member initiatives include:
- Lane Monitoring: Cepton has deployed sensors that collect information on vehicle size, traffic volume, frequency, lane positioning, and potential obstructions. This information provides system operators with insight into how specific intersections or lanes are being used and can provide critical information on accident-prone areas.
- Smart Infrastructure Deployments: There are over 1 million signalized traffic intersections and 85 million surveillance systems in the U.S. alone, representing a key opportunity to augment these systems with lidar, creating smart infrastructure. Ouster lidar plays an important role in modernizing infrastructure to enhance road and intersection safety for pedestrians. Cepton’s lidar was also deployed by researchers from the University of Texas Arlington through the U.S. Department of Transportation-funded National Institute for Transportation and Communities at two intersections in two Texas cities.
- Infrastructure Inspections: Cepton’s lidar mounted on unmanned aerial systems has been used to inspect physical infrastructure and inform urban planning decisions, which is critical to creating safer streets and roads.
- Flow Monitoring: Outsight’s deployment of lidar at airports provides a precise and privacy-protective solution to monitoring people flow. Deployed for a similar purpose on streets and roads, lidar allows for an improved understanding of the way cars and people move and interact, and can inform safety decisions.
- Incident Detection: Traditional automatic incident detection (“AID”) systems are limited in their ability to provide high resolution detection reliability and coverage beyond 200m. AEye’s software-defined lidar overcomes the limitations of traditional AID by delivering increased detection capabilities in adverse environmental conditions and at longer distances.