A transportation revolution is about to take place, the likes of which we’ve not seen since the invention of the internal combustion engine.
Connected and automated vehicles (CV/AVs) hold the promise of vastly improving safety, mobility and the economy. We’re on the cusp of this transformation, and The Texas A&M University System’s engineering community is preparing to lead us into the future. Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) researchers are working with faculty and other researchers from Texas A&M, A&M System agencies and other universities, as well as with experts from government agencies and the private sector, on the next generation of transportation research and the education of tomorrow’s transportation professionals.
A&M System Chancellor John Sharp laid the groundwork for making the university a technological leader with his vision for the RELLIS Campus — a 2,000-acre, multifaceted, multimillion-dollar community with a major focus on transportation research. TTI’s new headquarters building will be located at RELLIS as well.
“Over a year ago, TTI made CV/AVs a priority, but we can’t be successful alone. There has to be collaboration,” explains Christopher Poe, TTI’s connected and automated transportation strategy lead. “This emphasis is bringing all engineering groups together, and it’s already impacting our students as they are introduced to this transportation technology revolution.”
Some of TTI’s collaborative research projects in CV/AVs involve studying:
- truck platooning with Texas A&M’s Mechanical Engineering Department;
- driver workload in automated vehicles with faculty from the Texas A&M Health Science Center;
- pavement markings, signing and modeling with faculty from Texas A&M’s Department of Civil Engineering; and
- the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to inspect roadway infrastructure with faculty from Texas A&M’s Aerospace Engineering Department.
The Center for Infrastructure Renewal (CIR) is also under construction and scheduled for completion in early 2018. The $73 million, 138,000-square- foot, three-story building will house state-of-the-art infrastructure research facilities and provide advanced training and education of students, technicians, engineers and future leaders in infrastructure-engineering-related areas. TTI and the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) will conduct research at the center with a focus on creating longer-lasting materials for pavement and bridges, according to Bjorn Birgisson of the CIR.
“There are clear alliances with CIR and other RELLIS facilities that bring together hundreds of researchers across the campus involved in connected technologies, smart pavements and safety improvement projects,” says Birgisson. “The knowledge transfer from these various RELLIS projects will create a synergy like we’ve never seen before.”
Plans are also under way for an automation technologies lab, where research will concentrate on UAVs (drones), robotics and cybersecurity.
At both facilities, there will be a large cohort of engineering graduate students with access to the latest learning tools, including visualization labs and three-dimensional, computer-aided, virtual environments.
“There will be a period of time, perhaps for a couple of decades, when the roads will be shared by connected, autonomous and regular cars,” says Dr. Swaminathan Golpalswamy of Texas A&M’s Mechanical Engineering Department. “This intermingling of our self-driving cars and human-driven cars creates various safety challenges. How do they safely coexist? That’s one of the projects we want to work on at the lab.”
As the RELLIS Campus develops, collaborations continue to evolve. The Second Texas A&M Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Symposium for university research engineers was conducted on March 3. And on May 4–5, TTI will conduct its Second Annual Texas A&M Transportation Technology Conference specifically designed for executives of private companies and public agencies engaged in innovating, testing and deploying advanced transportation technologies.
“The future of transportation is exciting,” says Poe. “And we’re lucky here at TTI to have access to so much talent under the A&M System umbrella and to work with such innovative private- and public-sector research partners.”