A classroom, a roadside, even a cow pasture — you can call any space where a critical thinker tests a theory a laboratory. Any tool, handheld or electronic, can be considered technology when applied to a given task.
But it takes a special kind of laboratory, with the right tools wielded by qualified experts, to conduct critical research. At the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), we maintain state-of-the-art facilities that cover the spectrum of transportation research. Institute researchers develop and test innovative techniques, as well as new products, technologies and standards. For TTI researchers, providing reliable test results is more than an academic exercise — much more. It’s about improving transportation safety for you and your family. It’s about achieving greater efficiency in an era of increasingly limited resources.
This issue of the Texas Transportation Researcher profiles a number of TTI’s research facilities. Our Sediment and Erosion Control Laboratory, as well as our Environmental and Emissions Research Facility, rigorously tests products and technologies to evaluate how they’ll perform under realistic conditions. At TTI’s nationally certified Proving Ground, we’ve added to our renowned core competencies for roadside safety research with the capacity to test tolling and connected-vehicle technologies. Our materials and pavements facility — which houses labs accredited by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials — provides state-of-the-practice assessments for sponsors. Researchers at TTI’s Visibility Research Laboratory objectively test retroreflective technologies and evaluate, subjectively, how humans interact with those technologies in different weather conditions, such as fog and rain. And speaking of human factors, our recently updated driving simulator helps researchers assess driver behavior in an environment that’s as close to the real world as simulation can get.
TTI’s facilities are living laboratories. Many of our research staff hold teaching appointments with Texas A&M University, while others support graduate and undergraduate student projects. Thanks to TTI’s extensive array of labs and equipment, our faculty researchers can supplement the textbook in the classroom with valuable, hands-on experience for their undergraduate and graduate students. And those students never have to leave campus. Strong relationships with Texas A&M’s Dwight Look College of Engineering — which operates TTI’s High-Bay Structural Testing Facility, also profiled in this issue — make this possible.
At TTI, we bring the world into the laboratory for both students and sponsors, whether it’s by testing how pavement performs under the rigors of a Texas summer sun or determining the safety risks associated with a spring rain obscuring signs along the roadside. Armed with the Institute’s research findings, our sponsors can make better decisions about how to improve the transportation system by making it safer, more efficient and more cost effective. That’s the value TTI research returns to the real world from the laboratory.