automated shuttle

VTTI’s newest automated vehicle is a low-speed, electric EasyMile EZ10 shuttle.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute will receive two grants, totaling $15 million, from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to research automated driving systems (ADS), a collection of recent technological advancements in consumer and commercial vehicles, and highway public safety. Virginia Tech has received these awards from a combined pool of 73 university, city and state applicants.

Described as huge by the VTTI, USDOT’s large, inclusive and extensive program will allow Virginia Tech “to be part of the leading edge (for ADS),” said Rich Hanowski, director for VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety to VT News.

ADS is a billion-dollar investment made possible by the automobile industry and certain mobility providers like Uber and Lyft. These investments improve the safety, in addition to the conveniences of adaptive cruise control, lane-change assistments and blind spot protection, of automobile transportation that takes an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 lives annually. In a future transportational job market, ADS’s main focus is to create a driving industry that is short on drivers. Ultimately, ADS may eliminate drivers in the job market, but drivers are still necessary for safety concerns.

The grants will further safety, answer the questions of how ADS should manage the vehicle itself and how ADS should react to situations that can be prevented.

“There’s a lot of question marks about how automated driving systems will deal with things like police on the side of the road, first responders, if they’re dealing with a crash, and we’re trying to come up with solutions that will allow everybody to operate safely, and it’s very important that we bring them together to look at ways to standardize how the automated driving systems will react to these solutions and come up with technical solutions that can be deployed nationally,” said Michael Mollenhauer, VTTI director for the Center for Technology Implementation to VT News.

USDOT’s Automated Driving System Demonstration Grants program makes these monetary awards possible. Funding was awarded to a combination of eight American universities, cities and states as said in a September press release. The eight combined city, state and university organizations will collectively total $60 million in grants awarded by USDOT to further the concerns in transportational safety, security and privacy.

“Automation has the potential to impact safety significantly — by reducing crashes caused by human error, including crashes involving impaired or distracted drivers, and saving lives,” said USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao.

“New technologies like automated vehicles create exciting opportunities, as well as some challenges, and there is no better place to hone our understanding of these issues than the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute,” said Virginia Senator Tim Kaine in a press release. “From auto safety testing to road design to the incorporation of new technology into our transportation network, VTTI is the gold standard, and these grants will go toward research that will incur long-term benefits for the Commonwealth and beyond.”

VTTI had other successes in the past as it pioneered strategic highway research programs and naturalistic driving research which identified events on the road and analyzed how dangerous the situation is to the driver or any passengers, like cell phone use in a vehicle. Today, VTTI awaits further development from automated research, and Mollenhauer expressed that the institute will have more information available as developments continue.