From Automated Airport Parking to On-Demand Rides, North Texas Boosts Autonomous Vehicle Capabilities

NCTCOG's Regional Transportation Council believes autonomous vehicles are part of the solution to North Texas' future.

From autonomous parking at DFW airport to self-driving DART shuttles to medication deliveries in McKinney—along with local hubs for Kodiak Robotics, Aurora, and TuSimple—the region could prove to be the "most robust, automated, and connected vehicle ecosystem in the country," says one official.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG)—a voluntary association of local governments aimed at regional initiatives—sees the North Texas area’s population growing to more than 11 million residents by 2045. To address strains that will put on the region’s transportation system, it sees autonomous vehicles as part of the solution.

At a meeting of the NCTCOG’s Regional Transportation Council (RTC) earlier this month, the organization approved plans to further test autonomous driving capabilities across North Texas, from automated parking at DFW International Airport to the delivery of medical supplies in McKinney, building upon a project it first began in 2018.

“The larger significance of this project…is deepening the innovation portfolio in the region, creating a level playing field for every community in North Texas to participate,” said Clint Hail, a transportation planner with the NCTCOG who’s overseeing its technology and innovation program.

At the meeting, an additional $3 million was allocated to fund five projects across DFW, adding to more than $31 million the council approved to test technology capabilities in the region.

Automated parking at DFW Airport

One of the projects that’s part of the second round of the RTC’s Automated Vehicles Program includes $1.5 million to bring an autonomous parking system to DFW International Airport. As part of the project, the airport will conduct tests in the coming months that could see cars that already have autonomous parking capabilities “park themselves” after dropping off passengers at the terminal. This would be done via a system that tells the car where to go and coordinates with other vehicles to lessen congestion. Paul Puopolo, executive VP of innovation at the airport, told the Fort Worth Report that a full system could be implemented in the next five to eight years.

“Parking is vital, it’s another one of these vital bridge technologies,” Hail said. “It’s something that’s happening now…and it’s only going to accelerate. Finding ways to do parking differently in the light of these technologies, that’s a really great opportunity.”

Arlington’s RAPID Program

Another project getting funding is the city of Arlington’s RAPID Program, which landed $600,000 to expend within the city. Through a partnership with UT Arlington, Via Transportation, and May Mobility, the RAPID program, which stands for rideshare, automation, and payment integration demonstration, provides an on-demand transportation service using autonomous vehicles.

With funding from the NCTCOG and the Federal Transit Administration, RAPID has provided more than 28,000 trips around Arlington’s downtown and the UT Arlington campus since beginning in March 2021.

Autonomous deliveries in McKinney

As part of the Automated Vehicles Program, McKinney is eying a program that would use autonomous vehicles to deliver food and medications to underserved areas in the community. According to Community Impact, the NCTCOG and the city of McKinney are seeking to partner with nonprofit Feonix-Mobility Rising to bring two autonomous vehicles to the city to serve senior residents, along with those who are disabled or living below the poverty line. Additionally, Feonix would use its vehicles to act as mobile sites for telehealth visits.

Feonix currently has operations in nine states. Through the RTC’s program, the organization is looking to provide similar services in southern Dallas, working with potential partners like Children’s Health, Parkland Hospital, SMU, and DART. Feonix said it could begin those operations in early 2023.

‘Technology is now a transportation mode’

“Technology is now a transportation mode, no different than transportation modes that maybe were generated 100 years ago,” said Michael Morris, NCTCOG director of transportation, at the meeting. “You’re changing the accessibility to the transportation system as a way for people to gain more productivity in that system.”

Other approved projects part of the second round of the program includes increasing broadband access in places like Lancaster and southern Fort Worth, along with transportation-related projects, including a system that would automate traffic lights for emergency vehicles to quickly reach their destination.

Building on the foundation of innovation

The first round of projects, which received funding approval in 2018, included testing an autonomous vehicle truck port in Fort Worth, mobile food delivery services at Paul Quinn College, and an automated bus line on DART’s operations between Dallas Love Field Airport and the Inwood/Love Field Station, along with other autonomous vehicle projects in various cities around North Texas.

The DFW area has quickly emerged as a hub for autonomous driving technologies. Companies like Kodiak Robotics, Aurora, and TuSimple have all opened operational hubs in the region in recent years. And Ford recently shortlisted Dallas as a potential site for a $160 million facility for its self-driving business, which could potentially bring 250 new jobs to the area.

Partnering with local universities

In addition to the work of private companies, the NCTCOG is also tapping into talent at local universities to drive mobility innovation. In late 2020, the organization partnered with the Texas Research Alliance and a number of institutions, including UNT, UT Arlington, UT Dallas, and SMU, to launch the North Texas Center for Mobility Technology to address mobility challenges and provide an R&D network for local industry players.

With $2.5 million in seed funding from the RTC, the center unveiled its first two projects. One involves a partnership between UNT and Hermes Autonomous Air Mobility Solutions to look at how unmanned aircraft can be integrated into urban, suburban, and rural airspaces. The other involves UNT and Plano-based startup Emobilus developing a system to help vehicles detect cyclists on the road.

“What you’re seeing now is…the most robust, automated, and connected vehicle ecosystem in the country and certainly within the state,” Hail said.

Get on the list.
Dallas Innovates, every day.

Sign up to keep your eye on what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth, every day.

One quick signup, and you’re done.

R E A D   N E X T