The USA’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has selected the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) to lead a team of researchers on a project to improve the safety of autonomous vehicles.
The five-year NHTSA’s Crash Avoidance Human Factors Research project is an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract worth US$7m annually. It means TTI and the four other research teams selected by NHTSA will compete only among themselves for approximately US$35m in planned research expenditures through 2023.
Joining TTI’s team are researchers from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), the University of Houston and Touchstone Evaluations, an independent product evaluation and research laboratory located in Detroit, Michigan. It is anticipated that initial projects may be awarded before September 1 this year, with future projects funded throughout the duration of the five-year contract.
“To be selected for this IDIQ, we very carefully and purposefully put together a team of renowned researchers and scientists from across the country who have a unique balance of expertise, research capabilities and facilities,” explained TTI’s senior research scientist and human factors program manager, Michael Manser.
“The various projects have not yet been determined, but they will generally involve human interaction with advanced vehicle safety systems including autonomous vehicles.”
John Sullivan, head of UMTRI’s human factors group, noted, “These NHTSA projects will certainly help us have a better understanding of the challenges we face as we see increased levels of vehicle automation. Through this research funding, NHTSA is also interested in determining just what benefits automation will bring, especially as it concerns safety.”
Ioannis Pavlidis, founder of the Computational Physiology Lab at the University of Houston, said, “Research topics will likely include driver reaction and interaction with their autonomous vehicles, and how that impacts safety. As automation becomes reality on a piecemeal basis, we will become ‘vehicle handlers,’ as we will only be driving part of the time. Being a part-time driver brings with it its own set of potential problems. For example, how do we make sure the driver is ready when they are brought back into the loop?”
Linda Angell, president and principal scientist with Touchstone Evaluations, added, “We work directly with automobile manufacturers and suppliers, and have extensive experience testing the most advanced vehicle technologies, helping clients determine if a product or system is effective and safe.
“As part of the TTI team, our work on this project will likely involve how drivers manage their attention when these advanced technologies are operating. As we all know, distraction has been a real concern for safety. And, with more automation in the vehicle, one of the key questions is: How do we ensure that driver attention is properly supported and safeguarded?”