Researchers at Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute have developed a blueprint for how self-driving vehicles can safely interact with other cars on state roadways. The project, completed in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Crash Avoidance Metrics Partners LLC, and global toll operator Transurban North America, aims to improve autonomous driving by gathering data on roadway scenarios.
The use of self-driving vehicles, also known as autonomous driving vehicles (ADS), has faced criticism due to an increase in crashes nationwide. Virginia Tech was awarded a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration in 2019 to address this issue. The researchers have been working to develop a blueprint to improve the safety and performance of self-driving vehicles, including navigating around first responders, construction workers, and work zones.
The research project relied on partnerships with equipment manufacturers, public safety and services partners, and Transurban, which allowed researchers to use the I-395 express lanes in Northern Virginia for testing. The researchers identified solutions for self-driving vehicles in real-world scenarios, such as providing real-time traffic conditions, work zone information, and potential incidents to the vehicles through a software platform developed by the project team.
One of the challenges for self-driving vehicles is the need for more real-time and distance information to optimize their operations. The research project addressed this challenge by utilizing the roadside sensors installed on the I-395 express lanes to assist the autonomous vehicle in gathering information. These sensors enabled the Level 4 Ford F-150 autonomous vehicle, equipped with sensors and cameras, to navigate safely in various scenarios.
The project team, with the help of Crash Avoidance Metrics Partners LLC, developed a list of 18 situations to test the autonomous vehicle’s capabilities. These scenarios included detecting upcoming hazards, navigating through construction workers and work zones, and interacting with law enforcement. The researchers focused on building trust in the early stages of the project, as the autonomous vehicle’s ability to come to a more abrupt stop compared to a human driver required cooperation and understanding.
The findings and videos from the project will be published online by Virginia Tech in early 2024. The research is expected to assist lawmakers in making future policy decisions related to autonomous vehicles. Virginia has already taken steps to accommodate self-driving vehicles, reopening Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia with lanes dedicated to supporting autonomous cars.
While the project has shed light on important advancements in autonomous vehicle technology, concerns remain regarding the safety and effectiveness of self-driving vehicles. The research addresses some of these issues, such as the need for more real-time information and improved response to commands, but further development and testing are required.
Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute hopes that their research will contribute to the improvement of autonomous vehicles and make transportation safer for all road users. With continued advancements and collaboration between industry, academia, and policymakers, the future of self-driving vehicles looks promising.