Safe-D: Safety through Disruption

Featured Safe-D Faculty Interview: Dr. Anthony McDonald (TAMU)

Dr. Anthony McDonald is a Safe-D faculty researcher at TAMU working on Safe-D Project 03-036: Modeling Driver Responses During Automated Vehicle Failures and Safe-D Project 04-098: Data Mining Twitter to Improve Automated Vehicle Safety. Safe-D Student Adam Novotny (VT/VTTI) interviewed Dr. McDonald about Safe-D Project 03-036 as part of the Safe-D Student and Faculty Interview Chain. Read on to learn more about Dr. McDonald and his research!

What are your research interests?

I am broadly interested in applying machine learning to human factors, with a specific focus on transportation safety and healthcare applications.

What did you obtain your degree(s) in and where?

I received a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and the Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Industrial Engineering.

How did you end up working at your current institute? Describe the path that led you to your current position.

After I completed my PhD I spent a little over 3 years in the cloud software industry at Oracle Corp. During that experience, I decided I wanted to return to academia to pursue my research and teaching interests. I chose to join Texas A&M because of its strong Industrial and Systems Engineering department and its connection to TTI.

How did you hear about the Safe-D National UTC and how did you get involved with this Safe-D project?

I heard about the SAFE-D National UTC from Dr. Sue Chrysler, Associate Director of Safe-D at TTI. I got involved in the specific project as the PI. The idea for the project originated in a discussion with Dr. Johan Engstrom (VTTI). We observed that there were many empirical studies of automated vehicle takeovers, but few quantitative models had been developed to predict human behavior in those situations.

Please describe your Safe-D project, including how you will be conducting/have conducted your study/studies, any major findings thus far that you can share publicly, and how the outcomes of your project will impact transportation safety.

The goal of the project is to develop a quantitative model to predict driver behavior following a takeover from a partially automated vehicle. The project is broken down into 4 phases: a literature review, an analysis of driver decision-making during rear-end emergencies in the SHRP2 dataset, an empirical study of takeovers during platooning and silent failures, and a final modeling analysis. To date, we have completed the literature review ( and the empirical study. We are finalizing the results of the SHRP2 analysis and are just getting started with the modeling work. Our most significant finding so far is the importance of visual evidence accumulation on the driver avoidance maneuver process. Unfortunately, we do not have anything public we can share on that regard but are hoping to have things submitted soon.

How is your team sharing the results of your project with other transportation researchers, practitioners, and/or the general public?

We are trying to be as active as possible in presenting our work in conferences and journal articles (namely the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board and Human Factors and Ergonomics). At the end of the project, we are planning to hold a webinar (sometime in the June 2020 time frame).

Do you expect any follow-on studies to result from the work that you are conducting/have conducted?

Definitely. We are looking for future funding opportunities at this time. We still have a lot to learn about takeovers when driving in platoons.

What advice do you have for a student, like me, who is pursuing a similar career path as yourself?

I’m not the best at providing advice, but I would recommend always saying yes to new opportunities. Being open to opportunities such as this project has been very helpful to me in my career in academia and led me to a lot of interesting projects I never would have expected.


The Safe-D Student and Faculty Interview Chain was created to encourage Safe-D students to facilitate contact with faculty and staff members participating on Safe-D projects via conducting a brief interview as a networking and career-building opportunity. To learn more about this initiative, please contact Safe-D Program Manager, Leslie Harwood.