Externally sponsored awards at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) topped $50 million in just over a year, setting a record for the institute, and allowing VTTI to lead further advancements in roadway safety and technology research.

“This has been a tough fiscal year for us, given COVID-19 and its impact on our ability to conduct research that is largely based on human interactions,” said institute director Tom Dingus. “But now, not only are we safely resuming operations to lead critical transportation research efforts, we are seeing award numbers surpass those of previous years. It is a testament to the extraordinary talent, hard work, and determination of our team of researchers.”

VTTI received several large-scale grants and contracts from public- and private-sector partners over the course of this fiscal year. Major research advancements for fiscal year 2020 include:

$15 million U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Automated Driving System Demonstration Grants
VTTI received two $7.5 million grants from the USDOT to advance automated driving system research. The Automated Driving System Demonstration Grants program provides federal funding to projects that test methods for safely incorporating automated driving systems on U.S. roads. Of the 73 proposals submitted by agencies nationwide, VTTI was the only organization to receive two awards, which will support the following projects:
Trucking Fleet CONOPS for Managing Mixed Fleets
Safely Operating ADS in Challenging Dynamic Scenarios: An Optimized Automated Driving Corridor Demonstration

Virginia Smart Roads Expansions
The institute continued to expand the Virginia Smart Roads, which provide advanced vehicle testing capabilities on every road type (highway, surface, and rural) found in the United States. The final component of this effort, the Rural Roadway Expansion, is anticipated to be complete by the fall. The Rural Roadway is designed to recreate the challenges of driving on rural roads and will be the first test bed of its kind built with automation and other advanced testing in mind. The complete Smart Roads expansion is expected to have an overall economic impact of more than $285 million on the local area during its first decade and create 156 jobs in the region by 2026.

Automated Mobility Partnership (AMP) Program
AMP is a collaboration led by VTTI and directed by nine industry steering committee members, including vehicle manufacturers, Tier 1 suppliers, and tech companies. AMP provides members with access to a variety of real-world driving data and a suite of support tools focused on the development and evaluation of automated driving technologies. Using a library of crashes, near-crashes, and driving cases, the program allows users to discover rare automated driving cases,  create interactive analytics, and reconstruct automated driving cases in simulation.

Drivers Knowledge and Correct Use of New Technology Features in Vehicles
Sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, VTTI is partnering with Dunlap & Associates to study ways to maximize the safety and fatigue-reducing benefits of automated systems for older drivers.

Refining Testable Cases and Scenarios Concepts
Recently awarded, this project will develop and refine methods for evaluating models of SAE level 3 through 5 automated driving systems. Automated driving systems must operate in complex domains, including across work zones, pedestrians, and human drivers. Test cases can grow exponentially when considering all of the routine and critical driving situations and variations an automated driving system must handle. This project will consider statistical methods that can help bring order to these complex—and sometimes chaotic—driving scenarios by organizing, distinguishing, and segmenting the data in a systematic way. 

Safety Implications of Potential Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Sensor Degradation
Awarded last fall, the goal of this study is to understand the safety implications of sensor degradation in Advanced Driver Assistance Systems over a vehicle’s lifetime.

As the institute recognizes its year-end accomplishments, it is also planning for the future as the university continues to transition into various operational phases of re-opening. In accordance with guidance from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, study participants who visit VTTI can expect to see the following safety measures implemented for their protection:

  • Masks required inside of buildings (except while alone inside of a walled office).
  • Masks required inside of study vehicles.
  • Plexiglas dividers inserted inside of study vehicles to separate airflow between the participant and experimenter.
  • Vehicles will be thoroughly cleaned by VTTI staff before and after each use.
  • Six feet of physical distancing required.

“VTTI is committed to continuing to advance transportation through innovation while strictly following public health and university guidance to ensure the safety of our visitors and employees,” said Dingus. “Despite the challenging realities that we all now face, our institute is looking forward to getting back to significant growth and helping the Virginia Tech research enterprise. We will continue to identify new solutions to transportation issues.”