Following a US Department of Transportation decision to move ahead with require vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology for all cars and light trucks on the nation’s highways (earlier post), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) a $1-million follow-on to a $3 million project managed by the transportation institute.
The goal of the project is to design, to test, and to disseminate the initial recommended framework that controls how motorists receive communications—traffic warnings, the too-close approach of another vehicle, weather warnings, or text messages—while driving. Focus will be placed on the communication’s format, visual or audible, and the order and timing of such messages.
The Virginia Tech institute has been building connected-vehicle technology since 2001. On 3 Feb. NHTSA announced its intention to pursue a mandate of this technology in light vehicles in an effort to improve highway safety, prevent crashes, and help alleviate congestion, among other potential benefits.
We see this as a hugely progressive move. Vehicle communication technology has the great ability to improve safety, if it is implemented in a wise and safe way. We’re trying to get ahead of the game to ensure design before connectivity proliferates the entire driving experience.—Zac Doerzaph, director of the institute’s Center for Advanced Automotive Research and lead investigator on the project
The integration framework project builds on the institute’s already $30-million and growing funded projects related to connected-vehicle communication technology, including long-term research into crash avoidance systems, automated driving, and naturalistic driver experiences behind the wheel.
The institute, in coordination with the Virginia Department of Transportation, has a $14-million connected-vehicle test bed along Interstates 66 and 495 near Fairfax, Va., that contains 43 wireless infrastructure devices installed along roadways, all communicating with dozens of cars, trucks, and motorcycles equipped with wireless communication systems. The test bed will soon expand to include 80 roadside devices.
Doerzaph and his team for several years have been testing various methods for drivers to receive key information in a wise, safe, and timely manner, without causing distraction or overwhelming the motorist with myriad details, such as non-emergency weather reports during high-congestion traffic.
Tests already have been done on driver interfaces such as augmented reality pop-ups on windshields or audible devices, both in simulated labs and on open highways, with motorists communicating with the car by voice or by gesture, such as “sweeping” away information on a screen with the wave of a hand.
Doerzaph says the framework being designed and subsequently documented as a set of design principles will serve as a reference guide by designers of apps and driver systems for connected automobile and related wireless devices, with driver safety and ease of use as a focus.
Challenges in implementing vehicle communication systems are myriad: From creating uniform warnings and data formats across varying handheld devices and vehicles, to sorting vital information from traffic officials that may be only for truck drivers and not passenger-car motorists, and stacking warnings and communications in order of importance. Also vital is securing communication networks from hacking.
Motorists will have the option of being entirely in control of not just the car—this study does not touch on fully self-driving or autonomous vehicles, still decades off—but the information they receive.
Several federally funded connected-vehicle research test beds are operating throughout the United States. Funding for the institute’s Fairfax test-bed project came from the US Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and Virginia Tech, among other resources.
The 43 roadside wireless communication antennas installed around Interstates 66 and 495 corridors and receive basic safety-related messages from test cars equipped with their own wireless technology.
Virginia Tech also has smaller set-ups that facilitate testing of various traffic scenarios, including the Virginia Smart Road, at the transportation institute’s Blacksburg base, and at the Virginia International Raceway, near Danville, Va.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute also has been heavily involved with automated driving systems, teaming with automotive companies such as General Motors to study how drivers interact with varying stages of automated car technology, including parking systems and features that can halt or slow a car to avoid crash- or near-crash events. In 2013, Google brought its autonomous car to the Smart Road for several weeks of closed-course testing.