Motorcycle Safety Foundation and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to Share Naturalistic Study with Autonomous Vehicle Developers

VTTI's motorcycle research can now benefit developers of self-driving cars.

This press release was originally published by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

To help ensure that two-wheelers remain a regular part of the traffic mix, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute will share valuable data from motorcyclist behavior studies with autonomous vehicle developers. Sharing the data will help ensure that motorcyclists are included in AV research programs and will help preserve on-highway motorcycling.

Data from the MSF 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study will be available to any AV-related company, from vehicle manufacturers to tech companies, through VTTI. In exchange for providing access to the MSF 100, VTTI will ensure that the MSF can use the datasets from AV-related research for its own analysis and published works.

“Autonomous vehicle development is a fact of life, and while the timeline and practical application is unclear, what is clear is that on-highway motorcycles must be included and motorcyclists’ rights must be ensured,” MSF President Tim Buche said. “Developers are testing autonomous vehicles on our roads now, without fully understanding the characteristics of motorcycle riders. The more they understand motorcycles in the traffic mix, the safer, better integrated, and more enjoyable roads can be for all users.”

“By providing data from the MSF 100 study, the largest and most robust of its kind, we are helping to ensure that motorcyclists are included in conversations about autonomous vehicles and traffic planning,” Buche said.

AV research could also have benefits for motorcyclists.

“If it were possible to download, to human drivers, a perfect understanding of how to see, avoid, and potentially even protect motorcyclists, it would be an amazing improvement in rider safety,” said Shane McLaughlin, center director of VTTI’s Center for Automated Vehicle Systems. “As riders, we all want that. Of course, that is impossible. But what is possible is providing that type of understanding to future vehicle systems. The MSF has always trained riders for safety. By making the MSF 100 data available to automated vehicle developers, the MSF could help train future vehicles on how to keep riders safe.”

The MSF 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study tracked 100 riders across the U.S., each for a one-year period, collecting data on their normal riding behaviors, from traffic scanning to reactions. The study also has a wealth of data on crash and near-crash incidents, including identifying factors in crashes, comparing rider behavior in a crash and during normal riding, and providing analysis of risk exposure and more.

“It is our hope that AV systems developers can use data from the MSF 100 to better design detection, planning, and control subsystems with respect to interactions with motorcycles,” said Dr. Thomas A. Dingus, who pioneered the naturalistic driving study research method. Dingus is also director of VTTI, an endowed professor of Virginia Tech, and president of VTT, LLC. “We want to assist AV systems developers in understanding the behavior of motorcyclists in the traffic flow, and specifically improve AV interactions with two-wheeled vehicles. We want to help make AVs safer, and we want them to consider motorcycles in this process as early as possible.”

Traditionally, research conducted by the MSF served as the basis for its curricula, consisting of a wide range of RiderCourses. The availability of the MSF 100 data goes beyond that.

“We’re telling the government, automakers, everyone involved with AV that we are here with the MSF 100 and more, and ready to help,” Buche said. “Motorcycles must remain in our nation’s traffic mix, and motorcyclists’ safety is our priority, so we encourage all parties with ongoing AV research programs to reach out to VTTI.”

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation® promotes safety through rider training and education, operator licensing tests and public information programs. The MSF works with the federal government, state agencies, the military and others to offer training for all skill levels so riders can enjoy a lifetime of safe, responsible motorcycling. Standards established by the MSF® have been recognized worldwide since 1973.

The MSF is a not-for-profit organization sponsored by American Honda Motor Co., Inc.; BMW Motorrad USA, BRP, Inc.; Harley-Davidson Motor Co., Inc.; Indian Motorcycle; Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A.; KTM North America, Inc.; Piaggio Group Americas, Inc.; Suzuki Motor of America, Inc.; Triumph Motorcycles Ltd; and Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A.. For safety information or to enroll in the RiderCourse nearest you, visit, or call (800) 446-9227.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducts research to save lives, time, and money and protect the environment. As one of seven premier research institutes created by Virginia Tech to answer national challenges, VTTI is continually advancing transportation through innovation and has impacted public policy on national and international levels. In 2007, VTTI founded the Motorcycle Research Group with the objective of applying VTTI’s multidisciplinary research capabilities to real-world motorcycle riding. With the help of study participants and customers in the public and private sectors, the group has collected hundreds of thousands of real-world miles in approximately half of the United States.

Student researcher wins scholarship to attend national traffic safety conference

Hesham Rakha and Mohammed Almannaa

Mohammed Almannaa, a third-year doctoral student in civil engineering, was named a 2019 Traffic Safety Scholar and awarded a $1,000 scholarship to attend the 37th annual Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities in Louisville, Ky. last weekend. Keeley Greene, a double major in sociology and communication, also received the award.

During the conference, Almannaa, Greene, and the other Scholars met with state and national traffic safety leaders, explored career opportunities with professionals in the public and private sectors, and participated in plenary sessions and workshops. In its fourth year, the Traffic Safety Scholars program aims to showcase the diversity of career opportunities in traffic safety to students.

“When I read about the conference and also about the people who have applied for this scholarship in the past, I found that they all seemed so excited that they had this opportunity to attend–to interact with professionals and engineers. I felt very encouraged to apply,” said Almannaa, who found out about the scholarship program on social media.

Almannaa presented research he conducted at VTTI about drivers with arthritis for a statistical methodology course, later published by the Transportation Research Board. Using video and other sensor data from the Second Strategic Highway Research Program naturalistic driving study, the largest light-vehicle study of its kind ever conducted, he and his classmates conducted statistical modeling to analyze driving differences between individuals with and without arthritis and to compare their crash risk.

 “We found that the individuals who had arthritis were 72 percent more likely to be involved in a crash,” he explained. “In our paper, we are suggesting that automakers should have special assistance systems available. It is very important given that there are around 54 million people in the United States who have arthritis.”

Almannaa’s statistical methodology for epidemiology and observational studies class was taught by Feng Guo, lead data scientist at VTTI and associate professor in the statistics department. Almannaa is also a recent graduate of the Urban Computing certificate program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and led by Virginia Tech’s Discovery Analytics Center. His advisor is Hesham Rakha, director of VTTI’s Center for Sustainable Mobility and the Samuel Reynolds Pritchard Professor of Engineering.

“I would not have received this opportunity without the outstanding supervision and excellent mentoring from my adviser, Dr. Rakha, since I joined VTTI in 2014. I have been fortunate to be under his guidance over the past six years during which I learned how to find a research question, then approach my question, use the best scientific tools to investigate, analyze the results, and finally present my work at a conference,” said Almannaa.

As a student whose transportation interests have ranged from driver safety to traffic mobility to bike sharing systems throughout his academic career, Almannaa appreciated the breadth of educational and professional development opportunities that Lifesavers provided.

“Our issue here in academia is that we are so focused on our own research. We tend fall short on interacting with others who are not specializing in our field. I liked the fact that the conference was multidisciplinary and allowed me to meet and learn from different people outside of my area,” said Almannaa. “It’s all about exploring.”

The Lifesavers Conference, the nation’s largest gathering of traffic safety professionals, showcases the latest research, strategies, countermeasures, and new approaches for addressing the nation’s most pressing traffic safety problems.

Learn about the Traffic Safety Scholars program:
Learn about the Lifesavers Conference:
37th annual Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities

Automotive leaders can leverage top Virginia Tech student talent and facilities for advanced-vehicle R&D

Automotive industry leaders now have the rare opportunity to help train the next generation of connected- and automated-vehicle engineers thanks to InternHUB, a unique paid internship program at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).

“We are excited and pleased to provide our partners with state-of-the-art resources and access to the talented students of Virginia Tech, which consistently ranks among the top ten engineering schools in the nation. Our unique program aims to transform students into transportation professionals and provide our participating industry members with a sustained pipeline of talent to meet their workforce needs,said Zachary Doerzaph, director of the Center for Advanced Automotive Research at VTTI and leader of InternHUB. Doerzaph is also an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech.

InternHUB invites automotive suppliers and manufacturers to hire talented Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate student interns to help develop next-generation transportation technologies alongside VTTI faculty. The goal is to facilitate practical skill development for interns and workforce-ready talent for employers, as well as to encourage continuous, meaningful relationships between interns and their sponsoring companies. Unlike traditional internships, InternHUB may last up to three academic years, providing ample time for students to become acquainted with industry projects and foster the skills needed in today and tomorrow’s transportation workforce.

Technology company Continental is currently participating in a soft launch of InternHUB. Three student interns travelled to Michigan over the summer to shadow Continental engineers and observe how automated-vehicle systems and their advanced sensing, controls, and interfaces are developed. This fall, the students are back in Blacksburg and continuing their internships at the transportation institute.

Gregory Beale, a master’s student in engineering mechanics, mentored under a Continental engineer who was developing a driving algorithm for the company’s autonomous shuttle project, the CUbE (Continental Urban Mobility Experience). This semester, Beale is working with VTTI faculty on designing a small-scale model vehicle prototype that will test new automated driving solutions.

“Continental is interested in developing an autonomous rapid prototype platform that operates in a safe, scaled-down environment. At VTTI, we are in the process of developing and testing this scaled prototype and identifying specific traffic scenarios to improve maneuver-planning algorithms—and we can do that by pulling from the millions of miles of naturalistic driving data that VTTI has conducted over the years,” explained Beale.

The idea of the project is to observe how the vehicle prototype could operate in complex real-life driving scenarios, such as a bicyclist crossing the street, when given certain sensory information.

“This is a great opportunity for students to work together with our team in a hands-on, agile development environment and expose them to advanced technology while enforcing the safe and systematic engineering practices that we expect here at Continental,” said Jeremy McClain, Director of Systems & Technology at Continental North America.

Beale noted that project details are proprietary, which in and of itself has been a valuable experience for navigating the competitive automotive industry.

“As a student, I have really appreciated the chance to work on proprietary research. Being able to collaborate with engineers in the field who are actually developing automated vehicles is an incredible opportunity that I would not have had otherwise,” said Beale.

InternHUB is housed within VTTI’s Automation Hub, an interdisciplinary advanced learning facility that opened on Nov. 27 during a ceremony attended by the transportation institute’s industry and government partners, as well as university officials. Located on the Virginia Smart Roads test bed in Blacksburg, Automation Hub includes over 15,000 square feet of shared garage and shop facilities used for vehicle instrumentation, as well as for mechanical and electrical system development.

According to Doerzaph, Automation Hub is designed to facilitate fast-paced, high-tech transdisciplinary projects. For partners, the Hub’s flexible organizational structure ensures faster results and the ability to collaborate continuously with researchers and students throughout the project development process.

“The automotive industry is rapidly evolving as the philosophies of traditional automotive industry mix with those of tech companies from Silicon Valley and beyond. InternHUB adopts this emerging trend by creating an environment modeled after tech startups. Our students work in small teams guided by experienced faculty mentors and follow Agile development processes.  A large open-concept design studio encourages broad collaboration amongst team members and is only a short walk down the hallway to a full complement of garage and shop facilities. Through these state-of-the-art capabilities, we are able to provide all the necessary tools for development and testing of advanced vehicle technologies and to ensure impactful project outcomes for our customers,” Doerzaph explained.

InternHUB projects will also benefit from VTTI’s full suite of research and support resources, including the Virginia Smart Roads, instrumented research vehicles, hardware and software development groups, extensive naturalistic driving databases, and a high-performance computing center.

Beale, who will continue his internship through the summer of 2020, believes the skills he is learning will help him achieve his goal of becoming an automotive engineer.

“I want to go into industry someday and hopefully work on automated-vehicle testing and development, so this has been a great opportunity for me. At first I was not sure whether I wanted to pursue an internship this summer, but I am very glad that I did. Really, there is no better time than now to get this kind of experience,” said Beale.

The transportation institute is actively seeking additional partners to join the program, as well as student interns for the winter of 2019. Visit the InternHUB website to learn more. Companies seeking more information on becoming an industry member may contact Zac Doerzaph at Students interested in applying for InternHUB should contact Melissa Hulse at or 540-231-0366.

VTTI, under contact with NHTSA, to host FMVSS Stakeholder Meeting: Considerations for Automated Driving Systems

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), under contract with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is hosting the following event:

FMVSS Stakeholder Meeting: Considerations for Automated Driving Systems

November 28-29, 2018 at the USDOT headquarters in Washington, DC

Meeting Objectives

  • Identify potential regulatory barriers for self-certification and compliance verification of innovative new vehicle designs precipitated by Automated Driving Systems (ADSs).
  • Provide potential options regarding the technical translations of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and the related test procedures.

We will discuss project progress and gather feedback on technical translation developments to date.

Register at

For more information:

Driving safety experts convene at Virginia Tech for international naturalistic driving research symposium

The National Surface Transportation Safety Center for Excellence at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) recently hosted its Seventh International Symposium on Naturalistic Driving Research. Transportation researchers, practitioners, and other experts from around the world gathered in Blacksburg, Va. in August to share advancements being made in international driving safety.

“This year’s symposium brought together researchers, academics, industry representatives, and policy stakeholders to share and discuss the latest in naturalistic driving research. We were fortunate to hear from a dedicated panel to share the Canada Naturalistic Driving Study, as well as an opening address from Dr. Miguel Perez, Director of the Center for Data Reduction and Analysis Support at the VTTI,  that took us on a trip down memory lane, reminding us how far naturalistic driving research has come over the past decade,” said Erin Mabry, senior research associate for VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety and conference organizer.

The symposium provided attendees with an overview of naturalistic driving research, a method designed to track driver behavior in real-time. Presenters discussed their findings on a variety of research topics including: distracted driving, automated and connected vehicles, teen drivers, data methodologies and application uses, the new Canada Naturalistic Driving Dataset, among others. Guests and presenters were also given many networking opportunities to discuss research in their respective countries and gained insight into the next generation of naturalistic driving studies.

Keynote speakers included Russell Neudorf, Deputy Minister of Transportation for the Government of the Northwest Territories, Canada, and Dr. Thomas Dingus, director of VTTI.

The symposium was followed by a workshop on marijuana-impaired driving research. Now that marijuana is legal in several states, there is an urgent need to better understand its effects on driving performance and safety, according to Ryan Smith, leader of VTTI’s Driving Research, Evaluation, and Analysis group and workshop facilitator.

“The marijuana legalization landscape is rapidly shifting, yet research has failed to keep up with the emerging public health challenges.  This workshop was a call to action with national transportation leaders to address this research gap by designing and implementing the next generation of promising cannabis-impaired-driving research.  Attendees discussed the first naturalistic driving study of marijuana impairment in Colorado, and the ability of this method to provide critically needed answers regarding the effects of marijuana on driving performance and traffic safety,” said Smith.

The next symposium will take place August 13-14, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia, with optional activities before and after the symposium.

Learn more about the symposium here. Presentations from the 2018 event can be found here.


Transurban and VTTI Partner to Make Roadways Safer for Motorcycle Riders

Media contacts:

Tanya Sheres
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
Anne Deekens

Vendors to submit technologies for a chance to undergo real-world testing

Transurban has invested $400,000 in a partnership with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) to launch the Motorcycle Technology Evaluation Challenge (MotoTEC). Motorcyclist fatalities nationwide increased five percent from 2015 to 2016, accounting for 14 percent of all traffic deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, riders are often overlooked in the discussion about advanced motorcycle technology. MotoTEC seeks to implement rider-centric research to identify and advance potential new technologies to address the safety and usability needs of riders on the road and around construction work zones. (more…)

Teen crash risk highest during first three months after getting driver’s license

This press release in its original form was written and published by the National Institutes of Health. Read the original press release here.

NIH study uses software and cameras to monitor teen driving behaviors.

Teenage drivers are eight times more likely to be involved in a collision or near miss during the first three months after getting a driver’s license, compared to the previous three months on a learner’s permit, suggests a study led by the National Institutes of Health. Teens are also four times more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as rapid acceleration, sudden braking and hard turns, during this period. In contrast, teens on a learner’s permit drove more safely, with their crash/near crash and risky driving rates similar to those of adults. The study appears in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Given the abrupt increase in driving risks when teenagers start to drive independently, our findings suggest that they may benefit from a more gradual decrease in adult supervision during the first few months of driving alone,” said Bruce Simons-Morton, Ed.D., M.P.H., senior investigator at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and one of the authors of the study.

The study is one of the first to follow the same individuals over time, from the beginning of the learner period through the first year of independent driving, while continuously collecting information using software and cameras installed in the participants’ vehicles.

The study also evaluated parents’ driving in the same vehicles, over the same time, on similar roads and under similar driving conditions as their children. Near-crash events were those requiring a last-moment maneuver to avoid a crash, while crashes were physical contact between the driver’s vehicle and another object.

The study enrolled 90 teenagers and 131 parents in Virginia, and the data collection system was developed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg.

“During the study, we equipped participants’ private vehicles with VTTI-developed data acquisition systems, which allowed us to document kinematics, miles driven, and video recordings of the driver and the driving environment. We then analyzed and compared crash, near-crash, and risky driving rates during the learner and early independent driving periods by gender, time of day, and road surface conditions,” said Charlie Klauer, leader of VTTI’s Teen Risk and Injury Prevention Group.

Overall, the study found that the crash/near crash rate for teenagers did not decline over the first year of independent driving, while the rate of risky driving modestly declined. According to the researchers, if teenagers were learning from their experiences, one would expect that the driving risks would consistently decline over time.

Teenagers also had a higher risky driving rate under favorable conditions—daytime or dry roads—compared to less favorable conditions—nighttime or wet roads. This finding implies that teenagers may be more careful and less inclined to take risks during unfavorable driving conditions.

When comparing male and female teens, the study team found that the risky driving rate did not differ by gender during the learning period. However, when teenagers entered independent driving stages, males had a higher risky driving rate. This rate did not consistently decrease over time for males but did decrease for females. The crash/near crash rate was similar across genders and driving periods.

“During the learner’s permit period, parents are present, so there are some skills that teenagers cannot learn until they are on their own,” said Pnina Gershon, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “We need a better understanding of how to help teenagers learn safe driving skills when parents or other adults are not present.”

The researchers aim to identify factors that may improve safety and reduce specific driving risks. They plan to address whether the duration and quality of practice driving can predict future outcomes in the independent driving period. They also will explore how passengers influence driving risk during learner and independent driving periods.

Gershon P, Ehsani JP, Zhu C, Klauer S, Dingus T, and Simons-Morton B. Crash risk and risky driving behavior among adolescents during learner and independent driving periods. Journal of Adolescent Health DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.04.012 (2018).

Register for the Seventh International Symposium on Naturalistic Driving Research

The National Surface Transportation Safety Center for Excellence at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) will host the Seventh International Symposium on Naturalistic Driving Research (NDRS 2018) at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center in Blacksburg, Virginia on August 28-30, 2018. Naturalistic driving experts, faculty, students, and the public are invited to register for the event.

The two-day international symposium, preceded by a free evening tour of the Virginia Smart Roads on Monday, August 27, will gather international experts in the field of naturalistic driving research to discuss a wide range of topics. The symposium will provide researchers and practitioners with an overview of international naturalistic driving studies, current research and “hot topics”, as well as insight into the next generation of studies and future applications of naturalistic driving research. Attendees will have opportunities to network with subject matter experts to discuss naturalistic driving in their respective countries.

The keynote speakers will be Russell Neudorf, Deputy Minister of Transportation for the Government of the Northwest Territories, Canada, and Dr. Thomas Dingus, director of VTTI.

On Thursday, August 30, VTTI will host a driver marijuana-impairment workshop following the symposium. During the workshop, attendees will learn about marijuana-impaired driving and its effects on driving performance and safety. Ryan Smith, leader of VTTI’s Impaired Driving Research, Evaluation, and Analysis group, will lead the session. The workshop fee is not included with NDRS registration; however, registration for the symposium is a prerequisite for attending the workshop.

Register by June 30 to receive the early bird rate. Visit the NDRS website to RSVP and to learn more about student, early bird, regular, and late registration fees and deadlines:

VTTI Automated vehicle-related Testing In Arlington, Va.

About automated vehicles

  • If designed well, automated vehicles have considerable potential for reducing congestion, increasing safety, and providing new transportation solutions for people who currently cannot drive.
  • This study is one of many being conducted to determine how best to design automated vehicles.
  • This study is investigating the potential need for additional exterior signals on automated vehicles.
  • This research is relevant for ensuring pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers are accommodated.
  • The study results will be made public.

About the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI)

  • VTTI has been conducting transportation research for three decades.
  • VTTI works closely with all involved in the performance of a study to ensure safety is maintained while study data are collected.
  • VTTI is a pioneer in studying advanced technologies in real-world environments; in collaboration with local municipalities, further research into this arena can be performed to evaluate the potential benefits for Virginia citizens.

Safety-related information

  • The driver’s seating area is configured to make the driver less visible within the vehicle, while still allowing him or her the ability to safely monitor and respond to surroundings.
  • Development of the test vehicle focused on ensuring driver safety and included several months of piloting and testing the vehicle, first in controlled areas, then in low-density areas and finally in an urban area.
  • All VTTI studies are approved by the Virginia Tech Institutional Review Board, which is charged with the protection of human subjects in research.

State and county involvement

  • Arlington County officials were included during the planning of this work.
  • Arlington County was selected for this study because it is representative of the urban areas for which automated vehicles are currently being considered.

Value of study in relation to Virginia

  • Research projects such as this (e.g., studying human behavior in the presence of new technology in the real world) are extremely valuable to policy makers and vehicle manufacturers.
  • Combining a seasoned transportation research institute like VTTI with an urban environment as robust as Arlington County will result in an ideal platform for this and future studies with a variety of potential transportation technology companies.
  • This study will continue to advance Virginia as among the few states performing automated-vehicle research.
  • This work provides an excellent opportunity for establishing multi-agency coordination that will be of value in automated-vehicle studies going forward with the Commonwealth.

Institute engineers drive advanced-vehicle technology forward

Jean Paul “J.P.” Talledo Vilela is an embedded hardware team leader in the Center for Technology Development at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). The department in which he works, the Hardware Engineering Lab (HEL), develops connected- and automated-vehicle systems for use in the institute’s research studies and test-bed applications. We went down to the garage and asked Talledo Vilela to share with us an inside look at HEL’s engineering capabilities.

From underneath the wheel of a research vehicle, Talledo Vilela pulls out a hidden circuit board capable of reprogramming an average car into a semi-automated one. He calls it a Vehicle Control Board (VCB) and explains how this device, as thin as a credit card, controls the car’s ability to steer, brake, and accelerate.

“This guy is the brain. On the brake, you’ll see we have attached a mechanical pulley system with a motor that tells the brake to pull or release,” he says, motioning to a lever attached to the vehicle’s brake pedal. “The VCB calculates how much of the brake to pull—maybe 10, 20, 30, or 40 percent. It’s the same thing with the steering. We’ve connected a motor to the steering column and can use the VCB to tell the car how far to turn–for instance, 80 degrees to the left or right. Most of our automation involves a combination of mechanical and electronic systems working together.”

The installation of VCB is but one example of how Talledo Vilela, along with his colleagues in HEL, are working to retrofit standard vehicles with automation and other technologies in support of VTTI’s transportation safety research into advanced vehicles.

As we walk around the garage, Talledo Vilela talks about how he came to work for the institute 10 years ago. While pursuing his master’s degree in Mexico, he developed wireless sensor networks for Mercedes-Benz and knew that he wanted to continue working with manufacturers. Following graduation, he moved to the United States to gain proximity to the automobile industry and began working for VTTI.

“I really like it here,” he says. “It’s exciting, and I’m always learning new stuff about the cars and from the people I work with. We have engineers from different disciplinary areas, from computer hardware to mechanical, so we make a nice team.”

JP Talledo VilelaAlong with automation, the HEL team is also developing connected-vehicle capabilities. This involves instrumenting vehicles with dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) systems, which use radio waves to transmit vehicle GPS location, direction, and speed to other vehicles and infrastructure. The DSRC systems are designed to constantly scan for signals communicated from other vehicles or infrastructure units along the roadway to detect various hazards and warn the driver through a series of alerts. These can include small lights that flash across the dashboard, messages that appear on the dashboard, series of beeps, and recorded warnings.

“We talk to the road, and the road talks to us,” Talledo Vilela explains. “We can generate warnings to send—or what we call travel information messages—to drivers about accidents, work zones, speed limit changes, and that kind of thing.”

After the research vehicles are fully equipped, Talledo Vilela and his team take them out of the garage and onto the road for deployment. Currently, VTTI is testing automated- and connected-vehicle technologies on the Virginia Smart Road, the Virginia Automated Corridors, and the Virginia Connected Corridors outside of Washington, D.C.

The greatest safety benefit of advanced-vehicle technology, Talledo Vilela believes, is that it can aid the driver and provide warnings about potential hazards. However, he stresses that drivers still always need to be alert. And, in the case of automated vehicles, drivers need to be prepared to take over the wheel at any time.

“The computer systems in automated vehicles are not advanced enough to be able to predict something that can happen in under a second,” Talledo Vilela cautions. “Also, sometimes the car cameras cannot detect the surroundings clearly. Maybe the sun is too bright or the lane markings are obscured due to heavy rain or snow. In those cases, the car may not engage automation.”

HEL also has the option to disable automation physically if needed during studies. Talledo Vilela points out a large, can’t-miss-it red “kill button” next to the driver’s seat.

“In general, though, this technology will at the very least provide aid in an environment that the car can drive safely,” he continues.

Next, HEL plans to test automated systems on rural roadways. Since the time of Talledo Vilela’s interview, the Montgomery County board of supervisors has unanimously approved an expansion to the Smart Road that will pave the way for this research.

“Most automation is happening on highways at high speeds because there are no pedestrians or intersections. So, the next step would be to figure out how to put automated vehicles to work in rural areas. Doing that will require more sensors and data from the infrastructure,” Talledo Vilela explains.

Advanced vehicles are still in the early stages of development. However, Talledo Vilela says that he looks forward to seeing where connected and automated research will drive VTTI next.

“We’re not at the point yet of simply being able to tell the car, ‘Take me to Starbucks.’ But, someday, automation will become more complex,” he says. “That’s where we’re heading with our work and how I think VTTI is evolving.”

Learn more about the Center for Technology Development here.

Article by Anne Deekens
Photos by Matthew Moeller