Whether transportation engineers love it or are skeptical about it, emerging vehicle technologies
have led an evolution converting traditional gasoline driven vehicles to connected vehicles,
electrical cars, and autonomous vehicles.
Connected vehicles are already here in certain forms and reportedly by some to be fully
functional by 2023. Today we communicate with other drivers around us and are connected to
the world via the internet. The car manufacturer Volvo has announced that all their cars will be
made electric in two years. In the progress of autonomous vehicles we are at level two or three
out of the five levels of development as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, with some optimists boasting that full automation can be achieved as early as
Irrespective, the question is not if but when transportation engineers will come face-to-face with
such reality. The implications are profound. It will mean that transportation engineers need to
equip themselves with new skills to avoid becoming obsolete. Universities will have to conduct
researches in this area and to reassess their transportation curriculum to see if they are still
relevant and sufficient. Professional organizations such as the Transportation Association of
Canada (TAC) and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) may have to re-adjust their
programs and change its agenda to suit the needs of the industry and their members.
Government bodies and highway authorities must re-position themselves if they are to continue
to function effectively. These agencies will be faced with the dilemma of how to balance the
retrofitting of existing infrastructure with the construction of new facilities to allow the new breed
of vehicles to operate smoothly.
Historically the study of transportation is a multi-disciplinary science but this emerging trend will
bring it to a new and higher level. Future transportation engineers will be expected to have at
least a working knowledge in areas such as information technology, communication science,
computer algorithm, human factor safety engineering, public engagement, business and legal
environments, and social media management. The knowledge which we have accrued in the
past at universities such as geometric design, traffic flow theory, transportation planning, travel
demand modeling, etc., may no longer be sufficient. Standards organizations will have to work
on setting up protocol architectures that are interchangeable, interoperable and expandable.
This paper explores the many issues facing the transportation engineers and the industry and
discusses how best they should position themselves for the future. It sets the stage for further
research. Commercial sectors including automobile manufacturers (hardware) and IT
companies (software) are already on board. The time for transportation professionals to jump
onto the bandwagon is now; and arguably not a moment too soon.