January 2014

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From Tom Dingus, Director of VTTI

The New Year offers us a chance to reflect on the successes of the past year, and VTTI experienced plenty of highs. During 2013 alone:

  • We continued our groundbreaking work into naturalistic driving studies, a method of observing driver behavior that was pioneered here at VTTI. The technique involves equipping vehicles with unobtrusive equipment that records volunteer drivers in real time, allowing VTTI researchers the chance to gain a better understanding of the behaviors and conditions that lead to an increased risk of crashes and near-crashes. Results from one of our naturalistic teen driving studies were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • Countless media outlets made a visit to VTTI, including CNN, NPR, and Discovery Channel Canada.
  • On a personal note, I was honored as a White House Champion of Change in the field of transportation and was subsequently asked to contribute a piece to Huffington Post’s series about the dangers of distracted driving.
  • VTTI hosted myriad industry leaders in the transportation field who used the unique testing capabilities of the Virginia Smart Road, including Google and its self-driving car, a visit that created plenty of buzz in the area.
  • We officially opened the National Tire Research Center, the globe’s premier tire-testing facility that will also help grow job opportunities in the Southern Virginia region.
  • We also opened the Northern Virginia Connected-vehicle Test Bed, on which we have currently installed 43 wireless roadside units that facilitate communication between vehicles, infrastructure, and devices. These units are installed in Fairfax Co., Va., along Interstates 66 and 495 and state routes 29 and 50. This is an area that experiences the most congestion and increased crash rates in the United States. The new test bed is a Virginia Department of Transportation facility that was developed in partnership with VTTI and complements connected-vehicle studies being performed on the Smart Road (seven wireless roadside units have been installed on the Smart Road).
  • We continued to work with government leaders and transportation agencies to discuss policies we hope will effect significant change in the transportation community and increase the safety of the traveling public.
  • To cap it all, VTTI celebrated its 25th anniversary with a Nov. 15 open house, which was attended by hundreds. Renowned transportation leaders Deborah Hersman (chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board), John Capp (director of electrical systems for General Motors), and Nat Beuse (associate administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Vehicle Safety Research division) joined us as guest speakers for the event.

It’s easy to see that we had a prolific year. And every success had at its core the VTTI mission: to save lives, save time, save money, and protect the environment.

But this is only just the beginning. We have much, much more in store.

For instance, our naturalistic driving studies will continue to grow. We are leading the largest naturalistic truck, motorcoach, and motorcycle studies to date. We’re spearheading a project designed to create a teen driving program that provides immediate feedback to teen drivers and post hoc feedback to teens’ guardians. We just finished collecting data from 3,000 drivers for the Second Strategic Highway Research Program, which will result in 4,000 data years and nearly 1,000 crashes that VTTI researchers will use for analyses of crash causation. A recently completed older driver naturalistic study will give us new insights into the behaviors that lead to increased crash rates among the senior driving population. (It’s important to note that, collectively, these studies result in vast amounts of data. To date, VTTI houses more than 90 percent of the naturalistic driving data in the world.)

VTTI researchers continue to be at the forefront of infrastructure research that includes: new lighting techniques on both the roadway and at airports; new pavement studies that increase ride quality, enhance sustainability, and support better response time to such inclement weather conditions as icy roads; and new eco-routing strategies that enhance travel time while addressing environmental concerns.

We’ve also set our sights on expanding capabilities in two transportation realms we anticipate will require more research and expertise now and into the future: automated and connected vehicles and systems. Known in the industry collectively as connected-automation, VTTI has already made significant headway into this area. We are conducting several connected-automation projects with top auto manufacturers, suppliers, and governmental agencies. We are ramping up our facilities, resources, and personnel to help answer the needs and questions of connected-automation industry leaders. Along with the Smart Road and the newly operational Northern Virginia Connected-vehicle Test Bed, VTTI has a cooperative agreement with the Virginia International Raceway to test connected-vehicle technologies on a dual purpose roadway (the raceway provides us both test-track and real-world testing capabilities). And we plan to add 25 wireless roadside units this year to our Northern Virginia test bed site.

For this reason, we released a new publication (The Future is Now: Active. Connected. Automated.) that highlights VTTI’s efforts into connected-automation. The brochure underlines our current and future capabilities in connected vehicles, automated vehicles, and next-generation vehicular systems. Essentially, the publication provides more insight into our resources and the types of projects we have been tapped to lead and/or support.

It’s an exciting time at VTTI, one that has proven to be the impetus for this blog: we felt it was the perfect opportunity to give an insider’s look at what happens here. From new projects to a ride along the Smart Road to guest blogs from fellow researchers and students, we have much to show. We’re kicking off the blog with a visual gallery that showcases the vast resources available to us to conduct our connected-automation projects. Several of the photos appear in our new publication, but for layout purposes and space constraints, many had to be cut. That’s why we collected the photos and videos in one spot: to provide an even greater visual depiction of what makes VTTI unique in its capabilities.

I hope you enjoy this first blog entry, and thank you for deciding to take a ride “In the Driver’s Seat.”

Safe travels,
Thomas A. Dingus

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