The automotive industry is currently in a major transition process that is driven by our digital lifestyle, including changing car business models from product-centric to service-centric. The future image of a car is less defined by its performance and more by the way it connects to digital services and the level of automation it can provide on demand. The same quality of digital connectivity we already experience in our homes and offices are now what we expect from our vehicles; for most of us, mobile devices function as a digital lifeline. The downside of this craving for connectivity is that safety while we are driving is being compromised. There is constant distraction from electronic communication. In general, communication patterns are shifting from voice to text, and being in stop-and-go traffic situations is tempting us even more to become distracted. Autopilots — even if they only work during periods of distraction — appear to be a solution to the increasing risk of being involved in an accident as a result of distracted driving.
There is also a growing expectation for transportation when we need it — on demand — without being dependent upon a specific schedule such as that found in standard public transportation schemes. The ultimate solution would be an on-demand automated transportation system, and preferably one that does not generate any emissions harmful to the environment. But we also have a need for so-called “last mile” transportation — small helpers that can assist us in overcoming short distances when we are in a hurry or too tired to walk, or when we have something to carry.
Projecting the menu of technical transportation opportunities to the needs of the 30A corridor is creating a picture of a multi-modal transportation system that is optimized for beach communities. Seaside could take the lead in becoming the epicenter of a new approach to how people and goods are moved.
With an analysis of the situation along the 30A corridor in general, and in Seaside in particular, several major drivers of traffic can be identified:
• Service staff that need to reach their work locations
• Visitors looking for parking as they visit the beaches, shops or restaurants
• Permanent or temporary residents commuting within the beach communities or between the beach communities
• Temporary residents as they check in or check out of vacation accommodations
• Maintenance/service vehicles and cargo vehicles delivering goods
A study performed by Atkins Engineering for Walton County clearly indicated that traffic could negatively influence people’s decision to engage in activities of economic value that requires or involves transportation. A multi-modal transportation feasibility study, performed for Walton County by the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) in collaboration with the International Transportation Innovation Center (ITIC) under the auspices of the Seaside Institute, provided potential transportation solutions. These solutions featured innovative technologies such as vehicle electrification, automated driving, high performance communication networks or smart grid infrastructure to create on-demand clean mobility services. In addition, road and parking infrastructure could be redesigned to reduce the overall number of vehicles in the transportation corridor and to keep traffic flowing.
At the Seaside Institute’s May 30A Mobility Workshop II, carried out in partnership with ITIC, national and international experts, as well as local community representatives discussed in depth different transportation options for the 30A corridor. Connectivity to the northern part of the county and key technology and business model trends in transportation that could influence the future development were also discussed in detail.
All the experts agreed that an urban quality communication infrastructure is essential to support vehicle and mobile device connectivity. Also, power grid infrastructure will be important for provision of charging solutions to allow zero-emission transportation. A key aspect is the implementation of electronic busses to shuttle service staff from the northern part of the county to the beach communities. This could be carried out with the creation of satellite “park and ride” structures that would be linked via zero-emission shuttles to the community centers. County Road 30A needs to be redesigned to allow the operation of automated zero-emission taxis and shuttles, which could have individualized vehicles exterior and interior designs (e. g. using 3D printing technologies) providing a unique “ride experience.”
As Seaside pioneered new urbanism 35 years ago — creating a new design template for walkable communities — there is an opportunity to take the lead again in integrating on-demand multi-modal mobility services utilizing advanced communication technology, vehicle automation and zero-emission powertrains that could be wirelessly charged, thus leading the way in showing how urban transportation can be organized in the future. Making the 30A corridor a living test bed for modern transportation technologies could attract research and design engineers both from large companies and from start-ups to validate new business models, new vehicle and new infrastructure design concepts. The ultimate goal is to provide modern citizens a lifestyle in a beach environment where they do not have to compromise on the convenience of efficient transportation, and at the same time, find the same level of digital services and connectivity, such as is offered in many metropolitan areas in the world. The dream of many people to stay and live at a desirable location and find an interesting place to work and play might ultimately become true in the 30A community. And the more people who find this dream, the more the whole county will benefit from it.
Dr. Joachim Taiber is the chief technology officer of ITIC (International Transportation Innovation Center) in Greenville, S.C., and an adjunct professor of automotive engineering at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CUICAR).