It is speculated that first responders (emergency medical units, law enforcement, etc.) could get a boost from autonomous technology. Whether simply removing the need for a driver – allowing medical personnel to focus solely on patients – or providing other benefits not yet conceived, this is another area being explored. But are the benefits on par with those of consumer AVs?
“I don’t know if it would be a good replacement for law enforcement, but for EMTs, potentially for fire response, things of that nature, that there would definitely be an application that we could deploy those units,” said Jennifer Tisdale, associate principal, embedded systems and advanced transportation security at GRIMM. “I think we also need to change the mental picture of what those units will look like because they may not necessarily be the 12-foot fire truck. It might be something smaller, something that’s robotic and maybe, depending on the size of the fire or incident, it would dictate which platform gets deployed.” Tisdale said it “makes a lot of sense” for certain applications, particularly densely populated urban centers.
“But probably even more so for those remote areas where they rely heavily on volunteer responders,” she added. “If you could have something that’s automated that could get there much faster than a volunteer can get their gear together and get to the site, then I think that is a great advantage.”
Then the question becomes: would this involve a team of robots inside the vehicle? Could it involve a mobility service where the automated ambulance or fire truck picks up the appropriate personnel on the way to its destination?
“I think either could work,” said Tisdale. “I really like the vision of having some robotic unit on the vehicle itself that can be remotely deployed from an operations center that is managing multiple townships or multiple geographic regions. But I have not considered the possibility of, almost like a rideshare, picking up the volunteers as they go. I think that, logistically, if that could be done in a way that doesn’t impair their response time, then absolutely.”
Doing so could potentially eliminate the need for a huge firehouse, which would in turn be helpful from an urban planning perspective. Fire trucks could simply be stored in a garage somewhere. When a fire is called in, Tisdale speculated that push notifications could alert firefighters so they can prepare before the automated fire truck arrives. “It could really change the way we’re used to doing business, if you will,” she said.
And that’s just the beginning. Imagine a smart roadway (with fully connected and at least partially automated cars) that work seamlessly to avoid bottlenecks that could delay first responders. “I think we can expect to see that,” said Tisdale, who previously worked for the State of Michigan on the economic development side. She frequently met with the Department of Transportation, as well as urban planning teams within counties and city structures.
“As we start to talk about smart city urban development, the connected infrastructure is going to be able to communicate with the vehicles themselves,” she said. “They will have the ability to see in advance – who knows, five miles away? – that a fire truck is coming. And that gives them a brief moment in time where they can shuffle the deck of vehicles and clear that path, whether it’s a shoulder or a lane. For emergency responders to know that they’re always going to have a clear path, that just makes their life so much easier.”
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