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VT Transportation Institute Awarded Grants For Automated Vehicle Research

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) will receive two U.S. Department of Transportation grants totaling $15 million to advance research on the safe integration of automation into U.S. roadways.

This funding, with additional support from the Virginia Department of Transportation, enables VTTI to drive forward its commitment to developing safety-first, data-based solutions to the nation’s transportation challenges.

“I’ve long called for increased funding for unmanned systems research because I know that innovation and advancement in this field can boost U.S. competitiveness, increase efficiency, and ultimately, improve lives across the globe,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a former technology entrepreneur. “With new technologies, and particularly with automated driving systems, it’s important to get safety right the first time. That’s why I’m so excited to announce that this federal funding will support VTTI in continuing to safely blaze the trail for the future of transportation.”

“As one of our premier research centers, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute continues to lead and innovate in autonomous technologies and vehicle safety,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “These awards, and the support of our national and state transportation agencies, will enable the advancement of critical research to address transportation challenges and create new opportunities for smart infrastructure growth.”

The grants were awarded through the Automated Driving System Demonstration Grants program, which provides federal funding to projects that test how to safely incorporate automated driving systems on U.S. roads. Of the 73 proposals submitted by agencies nationwide, seven awards were granted. VTTI received two, the only organization to do so, further evidence that the institute is a leader in advanced technology research.

“Receiving these prestigious awards from the U.S. Department of Transportation is an honor and fantastic for Virginia Tech and Virginia. Over the years, VTTI has established itself as a global leader for automated vehicle evaluation and development. We are very happy to take these important steps to move automated vehicles forward to save lives, improve mobility across the population, and reduce the impact of vehicle emissions,” said Tom Dingus, director of VTTI and endowed professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech.

Two $7.5 million grants will support two VTTI-led projects:

Automated Driving Systems and Public Safety

One project seeks to demonstrate how highly automated vehicles can adapt safely to encounters with public safety. The unpredictable nature of these scenarios could prove challenging for automated driving systems, according to Michael Mollenhauer, director of VTTI’s Center for Technology Implementation.

Let’s say a car with no front-seat occupants approaches a freeway crash that is blocking lanes, and a police officer has secured the scene and is directing traffic. How does the officer direct the car around the crash and then know that the vehicle will respond appropriately? This is just one of many scenarios for which industry, government, and academia must collaboratively provide solutions in order to enable public trust in this technology. VTTI and our project partners are honored to receive this grant and be entrusted with this responsibility,” said Mollenhauer.

Stakeholders from the manufacturer, infrastructure owner-operator, and public safety communities are collaborating with VTTI on the project. Partners include Transurban, the Virginia Department of Transportation, public safety stakeholders, the Global Center for Automotive Performance, and a Consortium of Automotive Manufacturers organized thru CAMP LLC.

Testing will occur on the I-95 Express Lanes, which are operated by Transurban.

“Transurban is excited to join forces again with Virginia Tech, VDOT and U.S. DOT to advance connected and autonomous vehicle technology on the 95 Express Lanes,” said Jennifer Aument, president, Transurban North America. “Like the high-tech corridors we manage today, we know that better mobility solutions can be achieved when the public and private sectors work together. Building upon our experience here in Virginia and across the globe, we are pleased to explore technology that could provide even faster, safer, and more reliable travel to customers with this important investment in future-ready infrastructure.”

Mollenhauer and Zachary Doerzaph, the director of VTTI’s Center for Advanced Automotive Research, are leading the research.

Automated Trucks and Mixed Fleets

The other project will seek to provide the trucking industry with clear guidelines on how to safely implement and benefit from trucks equipped with automated driving systems. In concert with the development of a fleet concept of operations, demonstrations will occur on public U.S. roadways.

“The introduction of automation into heavy trucks is expected to have a profound effect on commerce. However, it is still unclear how these vehicles should best be integrated into fleet operations with conventional trucks,” said Richard Hanowski, director of VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety. “Additionally, beyond the demonstration of the ADS technology itself, there are a number of peripheral considerations that will be addressed, including installation and maintenance, inspection procedures, insurance, roadway readiness, data, and cybersecurity. This generous grant from the Department of Transportation will enable VTTI and our partners to produce critical data to help guide rulemaking and fleet operations.”

Martin Walker, who will serve as the principal investigator for the project noted “VTTI has assembled a world-class 17-member team that includes automated driving system technology developers, trucking fleets, six state departments of transportation, and other supporting organizations, to tackle this topic.”

Both project teams will contribute and manage non-federal resources as cost share to supplement the federal awards.

VTTI is the largest transportation research institute in the United States by most metrics. Housing the largest group of driving safety researchers in the world, the institute is continually advancing transportation through innovation and has affected public policy on national and international levels. VTTI annually sees sponsored research expenditures of more than $45 million, has an infrastructure worth more than $110 million, and is conducting research with more than 100 private and public partners to find solutions to the greatest transportation safety challenges facing the nation and the world.

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