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UMTRI Joins TTI to Lead Autonomous Vehicle Research Team

August 2, 2018


TTI to Lead Autonomous Vehicle Research Team

Five-Year NHTSA Project Examines Collision Avoidance

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has selected the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) to lead a team of accomplished researchers on a recently announced, $7-million contract designed to improve the safety of autonomous vehicles.

The five-year NHTSA Crash Avoidance Human Factors Research project is an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract. It means TTI and four other research teams selected by NHTSA will compete only amongst themselves for approximately $35 million in planned research expenditures through 2023.

“To be selected for this IDIQ, we very carefully and purposefully put together a team of renowned researchers and scientists from across the country who have a unique balance of expertise, research capabilities, and facilities,” explains Senior Research Scientist Michael Manser, TTI’s Human Factors Program Manager. “The various projects have not yet been determined, but they will generally involve human interaction with advanced vehicle safety systems including autonomous vehicles.”

Joining TTI’s team are researchers from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), the University of Houston, and Touchstone Evaluations, an independent product evaluation and research laboratory located in Detroit, Michigan.

“These NHTSA projects will certainly help us have a better understanding of the challenges we face as we see increased levels of vehicle automation,” says John Sullivan, head of UMTRI’s Human Factors Group. “Through this research funding, NHTSA is also interested in determining just what benefits automation will bring, especially as it concerns safety.”

Research topics will likely include driver reaction and interaction with their autonomous vehicles and how that impacts safety, according to Ioannis Pavlidis, founder of the Computational Physiology Lab at the University of Houston. “As automation becomes reality on a piecemeal basis, we will become ‘vehicle handlers,’ as we will only be driving part of the time. Being a part-time driver brings with it its own set of potential problems,” Pavlidis says. “For example, how do we make sure the driver is ready when he or she is brought back into the loop?”

Working directly with automobile manufacturers and suppliers, Touchstone Evaluations has extensive experience testing the most advanced vehicle technologies, helping clients determine if a product or system is effective and safe.

“As part of the TTI team, our work on this project will likely involve how drivers manage their attention when these advanced technologies are operating,” says Linda Angell, president and principal scientist with Touchstone Evaluations. “As we all know, distraction has been a real concern for safety. And, with more automation in the vehicle, one of the key questions is:  how do we ensure that driver attention is properly supported and safeguarded? ”

It is anticipated that initial projects may be awarded before September 1, 2018, with future projects funded throughout the duration of the five-year contract.