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Smart Highway development receives additional funding

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 37 - July 27, 1995

Developing the technology that could be the "brains" of the Smart Highway is getting under way at Virginia Tech, according to information given to Gov. George Allen.

Steps toward technology development are being made possible by the acceptance of Virginia Tech and the Virginia Department of Transportation as associate participants in the National Automated Highway System Consortium (NAHSC) and the announcement of a $76,000 award to the Virginia Tech Center for Transportation Research. The funds will be used to develop a conceptual design for automated highway systems.

In responding to the announcement, Allen said, "I am very pleased that Virginia Tech has been able to demonstrate the value of the smart highway as a research laboratory, and that the Center for Transportation Research is helping to sharpen the cutting edge of transportation technology. I am even more pleased to think about the real potential this project has to bring high-tech industry to western Virginia. With Virginia Tech as the engine, this region is experiencing twenty-first century technology and economic development well before the year 2000."

The NAHSC is a public/private partnership established by the United States Congress to define the nature of future highway systems and to develop and demonstrate automated-highway technology. The consortium includes General Motors, Delco Electronics, Martin Marietta, Hughes Aircraft, and Bechtel. The state of California, University of California, Carnegie-Mellon University, and Parsons Brinckerhoff round out consortium core membership. Associate participants serve as members and advisors on the consortium's Oversight Committee and compete for portions of the overall research program.

The award is one of several made nationwide to describe and evaluate feasible alternatives. The NAHSC will select the three most promising technologies for development to full prototypes. If the center's proposal is accepted, the technology could be used on the Smart Highway.

"These funds are just the first of many research and economic development dollars that will be spent here at Virginia Tech and in western Virginia to identify and produce solutions to problems with traffic safety, capacity, and congestion," said Ray D. Pethtel, Virginia Tech spokesman for the Smart Highway project. "This award opens the door for us to learn how to build and operate smart highways and smart vehicles."

The award is to complete a conceptual design of a fully automated highway system using ultra-wideband radar transponders built into the highway that communicate with sensors, receivers, and processors installed in cars and trucks. The resulting cooperation between the highway and vehicle can control driving functions such as steering, headway (the distance between vehicles), and speed. The technology is designed to ensure safety through such measures as collision avoidance and controlled shutdown in the event systems malfunction.

There are several advantages to the "Infrastructure Controlled Cooperative System" (ICCS) proposed by staff at the Center for Transportation Research. Costs are spread between the highway and cars and trucks, making automation available at low cost to the individual citizen. The technology is inexpensive so it can be installed in existing roadways. The concept can also be implemented gradually over time so that people can adjust to "hands-off" driving and ease into "brain off" driving. Most important, the ICCS technology can operate with mixed traffic--both automated and conventional vehicles on the same roadway--allowing more effective use of existing infrastructure.