Automated driving is stepping closer to reality, and Virginia Tech is researching with Google to make it safer.
A small crowd gathered Tuesday afternoon at the Smart Road at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) to watch as Rep. Morgan Griffith and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, of the 9th and 6th districts respectively, boarded the automated-driving Google car.
The car performed two quick test laps on the 2.2-mile track and went through a test of the vehicles automation in response to a decelerated second vehicle. The two Congressional representatives spoke alongside Susan Molinari of Google and Myra Blanco of VTTI, and discussed the benefits coming from the cooperative research between the two institutions.
The cooperation between institutions is just one part of a larger project run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency that’s part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The goal of the project is to study various aspects of vehicle automation. The NHTSA is funding the project with approximately $1 million, according to Blanco.
A technical staff runs the Google car project jointly from Google and the Automated Vehicle Systems team of VTTI, led by Blanco.
As the automated Google car undergoes a series of test runs with an array of changing conditions and human interactions, the group continues to research both technical algorithms and the user interface of the Google car.
The Google car has been tested on public and private roads across “about half of a million miles nationally,” said Molinari, vice president of Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google. She stated that Google was excited to have the opportunity to utilize the VTTI Smart Road, praising its functionality as a controlled test area and stating that the whole partnership had been “very unique and very much appreciated.”
The car has been tested over the past month with both technicians and random experiment participants to see how a diverse amount of users affect the reactivity and functionality of the car. The local Congressional representatives were invited to participate in the latest tests to give them a first-hand look at how the research has progressed.