Larson Institute, Pittsburgh win designation as automated vehicle proving ground

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx announced on Jan. 19 that Penn State’s Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, in collaboration with the city of Pittsburgh, has won designation as one of 10 national USDOT Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds.

The proving ground designations are intended to foster innovations that can safely transform personal and commercial mobility, expand capacity, and open new doors to disadvantaged people and communities, said a USDOT statement.

The Larson Institute and Pittsburgh had submitted separate applications for consideration, and USDOT chose to combine their resources to form this center.

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Pittsburgh,” said Eric Donnell, director of the Larson Institute. “This is a great opportunity to work with other transportation stakeholders in Pennsylvania and to make a contribution to the research and development of autonomous vehicles, with particular focus on improving public safety and efficiency. The Larson Institute has a lot to offer, and we are looking forward to the opportunity to provide that support.”

The Pennsylvania proving ground will allow our region to develop workforce and technology as a growth area, Donnell added.

Penn State has worked closely with Pittsburgh for several years in advanced automotive technologies, including the Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities initiative.

Sean Brennan, professor of mechanical engineering and faculty associate at the Larson Institute, elaborated.

“This unprecedented opportunity will allow our students and experts in the region to engage in several exciting research areas, including applied vehicle-to-infrastructure research, vehicle motion coordination, platooning strategies, and testing of autonomous vehicles," Brennan said. "The selection of these specific sites enables us to examine a variety of vital scenarios such as unique weather and mountainous driving situations, loading-dock and low-speed autonomous docking operations for heavy autonomous trucks, synchronized vehicle platoon data for evaluation of performance and fuel-economy, and tele-operated control of automated vehicles.”

Active Penn State research in this area includes developing for commercial use predictive control systems that use traffic-level, vehicle-level, and powertrain-level information shared by connected vehicle technologies for on-vehicle automation systems. The aim is to reduce the fuel consumption of commercial vehicles by 20 percent. Another current project is using both live vehicle driving and driving simulators to study how technology-mediated interactions between a driver and vehicle affect the driver’s perception of risk operation of autonomous vehicles, using teleoperation that is mediated by virtual reality and augmented reality interfaces.

Penn State researchers are also developing software using the Robot Operating System that allows interaction between either a simulated or live vehicle interacting with a simulation of virtual traffic elements. This integration of a traffic simulator with live vehicle data collected at the Larson Institute test track will help enable an understanding of how to model, predict and control traffic behaviors that result from autonomous and connected vehicle technologies that involve both human and computer drivers making decisions together.

Penn State’s full-scale test track facilities, managed by the Larson Institute, will be a key aspect of the proving ground. The facilities comprise a one-mile oval facility which includes unique research facilities that reflect a long and diverse transportation research history. Originated in 1969 with plans for a licensing and testing facility for Pennsylvania motor vehicle operators, the facilities soon added a pavement durability facility to assess pavement design. Use of the facilities grew progressively and in 1989 incorporated the development of a full-scale test track in support of the federal bus testing program. In support of heavy vehicle and transit testing, the track later added a hydrogen fueling station, electric vehicle pack testing equipment and multi-fuel stations. In 2010, construction was completed on a high-roof garage facility that includes a 400-horsepower motoring chassis dynamometer and a certified emissions test stand.

Penn State has one of only two certified heavy vehicle chassis dynamometers among U.S. academic institutions, allowing researchers to investigate the performance, fuel economy, particulate formation and chemical emissions of heavy vehicles such as buses, tractor trailers and large passenger vehicles. In 2015, installation was completed of a DSRC radio network and dedicated DGPS base station on site in support of connected vehicle testing.

Planned enhancements to existing facilities for the proving ground include track-perimeter power and communication systems that enable rapid installation of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) hardware, signage, and other signalization elements. A command-and-control center for telemetry collection will enable processing of vehicle data that synchronize roadside measurements (traffic cameras, radio communications, signage, and traffic simulations) with telemetry obtained from vehicles at the track. This facility will also facilitate motion coordination, tracking, and testing of autonomous vehicles to support loading-dock and docking operations for heavy autonomous trucks, collect vehicle platoon data for evaluation of performance and fuel economy, and provide a staging area for tele-operated control of automated vehicles for highway testing, in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

As Penn State’s locus for transportation-related research, the Larson Institute engages multiple departments and colleges, which is crucial for understanding the societal effects of automation.

The states that will host automated vehicle testing sites are Pennsylvania, Texas, Maryland, Michigan, California (which will host two sites), Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina.

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Last Updated February 03, 2017