VAA Virginia Asphalt Fall/Winter 2019

26 FALL/WINTER 2019 C. Carter Iseman AUTOMOTIVE INNOVATION A New Frontier in Safety Since the production of the first automobile in 1888, cars have become a critical main- stay of American life, signifying everything from the convenience to move throughout our nation’s infrastructure to the freedom to travel the open roads in search of the American dream. But such a luxury does not come without peril. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “More than two million people are injured each year in motor vehicle crashes.” Additionally, “More than 32,000 individuals die each year in accidents involving motor vehicles.” It is in response to these alarming statistics, coupled with the huge strides that the autonomous vehicle industry has made toward a fully driver-free future, that federal agencies and research think tanks are partnering with car compa- nies to develop better technology to enhance ride experience and in-car safety. Equally as important is the continued development of more robust safety systems designed to pro- tect those working in roadside work zones. In today’s modernized vehicle, automo- bile manufacturers are including more advanced safety technologies as standard features. These features include things such as adaptive cruise control (senses slower moving vehicles in front of you and auto- matically reduces your speed to avoid rear- end collisions), in-car cameras and other sensors capable of monitoring the driver or allowing the car to intervene if a distracted, fatigued, or intoxicated driver does not respond to warning signals and automatic lane-keeping systems. All of these inter- active technologies allow the vehicle to communicate with passengers and allow safer travel in adverse conditions. Simply by adding these technologies that help to mitigate some common driving risks such as driver fatigue and alcohol impairment, a significant decrease of 45.5% of fatal acci- dents in the US could be realized. Beyond some of these new standard safety features, automobile manufacturers are also partnering with technology industry leaders to develop even more specialized features that can take the safety of both passengers and bystanders to a whole new level. For example, at upstarts like the electric car company Byton and popular mainstays like Volvo, new software is currently in devel- opment that will actively assess a driver’s state of awareness through facial recogni- tion software and heart rate sensors to alert drowsy drivers if the possibility of a crash is imminent. These technologies may seem like superfluous flights of fancy, but they are increasingly viewed as part of a critical and inevitable driving future. While automobile manufacturers con- tinue to upgrade safety features in their cars, research think tanks and government agencies are also combining forces to design fast-acting, accurate data systems that will transfer information to new technol- ogies designed to alleviate vehicle-related incidents before tragedy has the chance to become a reality. The Virginia Tech Trans- portation Institute (VTTI) is one such Virginia-based research organization having received two US Department of Transpor- tation grants totaling $15 million to advance research on the safe integration of automa- tion with US roadways. This funding, with additional support from other partners such as the Virginia Department of Transporta- tion, the Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC), Transurban, and the Global Center for Automotive Performance, enables VTTI to continue its commitment to developing safety-oriented, data-based solutions to aid in both the state and nation’s transportation safety challenges. One such project being actively pursued by VTTI includes determining how increas- ingly automated vehicles can adapt safely to encounters with the public. “The unpredict- able nature of these scenarios could prove challenging for automated driving systems,” according to Michael Mollenhauer, director of VTTI’s Center for Technology Implemen- tation when speaking to Ann Deekens for her article in the September issue of Virginia