The transportation landscape is rapidly evolving, and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute — along with its affiliated corporation in Southern Virginia, the Global Center for Automotive Performance Simulation — is keeping pace to address industry needs while ensuring the safety of transportation users.

This year, the institute will surpass several milestones that include:

  • Expending more than $40 million in externally sponsored research funding, accounting for approximately $1 out of every $7 of external research in the Virginia Tech portfolio in fiscal year 2018. 
  • Exceeding $51 million in new external contracts and awards received this fiscal year alone, giving a total active portfolio that exceeds $200 million. This funding supports the institute’s 300 active projects, all of which aim to save lives, time, money, and protect the environment. The institute is rapidly expanding, with 40 open positions for new faculty, staff, and students.
  • Diversifying funding, with more than 50 percent of funding coming from private-sector partners, including 14 automobile manufacturers and more than 50 suppliers.
  • Employing more than 500 faculty, staff, and students, a number that includes 280 undergraduate and graduate students from five Virginia Tech colleges and more than one dozen university departments who gain hands-on experience in conducting cutting-edge transportation research.

The transportation institute’s $110 million infrastructure, which was built largely via external partnerships with public and private-sector partners, includes the Global Center for Automotive Performance Simulation. Originally funded by General Motors, the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification Commission, and Virginia Tech, the center now generates more than $5 million in revenue each year and has created 70 direct and indirect jobs in the Southern Virginia region. The institute’s infrastructure also includes the recent Virginia Smart Roads expansion project, developed in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation. The cornerstone of the transportation institute, Smart Roads research and outreach use this year will near 3,000 hours — or approximately 60 hours per week — across multiple sponsors.

Institute researchers are currently working with sponsors such as General Motors, Ford, Nissan, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate advanced driver-assistance systems and vehicle automation, both of which are significant topics in the transportation industry.

“Advanced vehicles and technologies are quickly transforming our industry, which is exciting in terms of safety and mobility innovations but carries with it some serious challenges and questions that need to be answered,” said Tom Dingus, director of the transportation institute. “For example, how should these cars and trucks be designed, tested, and deployed so they will be able to navigate all road types in all weather and lighting conditions, avoid unexpected obstacles, and ensure that all transportation users are safer as a result?”

To help address these questions, institute researchers are acquiring large quantities of naturalistic driving data, a methodology pioneered by VTTI, that can be used in advanced analytics and simulation methods. Such methods help industry leaders determine if advanced safety systems and vehicle automation can operate reliably or cause unintended consequences for drivers, such as distraction or reliance upon the system. This approach is ultimately designed to provide a foundation for the safe, efficient development and deployment of advanced vehicles and systems.

Another key issue in transportation is teen driving risk and injury prevention. Teen drivers — particularly novice drivers — are overrepresented in national fatality and injury crash statistics. One out of every five young drivers in the U.S. are involved in a crash within the first six months of driving. Researchers at VTTI are dedicated to reducing these high crash rates and saving teenage lives through research and outreach.

 “The future of transportation holds many challenges, but the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute — home to the largest group of driving researchers in the world — is diligently working to confront these issues and many others,” said Theresa Mayer, vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech. “By working with more than 100 sponsors that include industry partners, government agencies, and suppliers, the institute has positioned itself to address critical transportation issues, delivering imaginative safety and design solutions.”

Written by Mindy Buchanan-King and Anne Deekens