Penn State

With $8.4 million federal grant, Penn State to partner with PennDOT, CMU to test automated vehicles

In the first project of its kind in the U.S., the state Department of Transportation received an $8.4 million grant last week from the U.S. Department of Transportation to test the safe integration of automated driving systems into work zones.

Automated vehicles do not perform well in work zones, the publication WIRED reported in 2017, since so many work zone cues are designed for human drivers. Work zones also prove dangerous for motorists and workers. In Pennsylvania, the number of work zone crashes has increased since 2007, topping out at 2,075 in 2016, according to PennDOT data.

“I am thrilled that the efforts of the department and our partners in the realm of automated vehicle technology have received national recognition,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards in a press release. “Crashes in highway work zones have killed at least 4,700 Americans — more than two a day — and injured 200,000 in the last five years alone. If we can improve how AVs interact with work zones, there will be significant safety benefits for the traveling public.”

Penn State is part of the core team that will conduct demonstrations of automated vehicles by studying if improved connectivity, enhanced visibility and high definition mapping will help AVs travel safely among work zones. Carnegie Mellon University, PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will join Penn State in the planning testing and evaluation of AV integration in work zones.

The team’s plan consists of running demonstrations of AV operations on the Penn State Larson Transportation Institute test track in State College for 17 different common work zone configurations spanning urban, rural and suburban settings. On top of that, the team will conduct live on-road testing for at least three of the work zone scenarios, including an urban environment, a mobile environment and a limited access facility.

Penn State also plans to provide its high-definition roadway mapping vehicle, which is equipped with a data collection system that can gather geolocation information for lane designations, lane stripe information, camera images for visibility, radar information and lidar. CMU will provide the AV to which Penn State’s mapping vehicle will transmit.

“These maps and data will then be used to simulate how connected and autonomous vehicles impact traffic flow and safety across a variety of operational scenarios,” said Eric Donnell, director of the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Penn State in a press release.

The project will roll out over four years and its total cost is $12.4 million, according to the grant application.

“Solutions developed by our team will be tested at the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute’s closed-loop test track, and ultimately applied in work zones across the Commonwealth,” said Donnell.

Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.