The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), has unveiled four expansions to the Virginia Smart Road, the state’s full-scale, closed testbed research facility.
The expansions, all engineered to accelerate advanced-vehicle testing, offer an unprecedented opportunity to explore how automated and autonomous vehicles (AVs) will function on all roadways found in the USA, including edge-and-corner and rural environments. Two new facilities have officially opened for testing, and the other two will open in 2018.
AVs are often tested in highway settings, where the lane markings are clear and surrounding obstructions are few. However, to operate ubiquitously across a variety of road environments, they will need to cope with challenging situations in urban, residential, and rural areas. The new VTTI testbeds will meet these demands.
The expansion projects include:
Surface Street Expansion – Recently completed, the surface street area can accommodate both urban and residential driving scenarios. The road’s unique versatility derives from its portable features, which include: reconfigurable buildings; roadside elements, such as sidewalks, a bus stop, fire hydrants, light poles, bike lanes, and alleyways; roundabout and stop-controlled intersections; and removable lane markings. All of these ‘props’ can be moved and reinstalled, enabling researchers to recreate a variety of real-world settings.
Live Roadway Connector – Now complete, the connector links the Smart Road directly to US Route 460-Business, and facilitates studies in which drivers can seamlessly transition between a live traffic environment and the closed facility. Increasing the length of the highway section of the Smart Road to 2.5 miles (4km), this feature will enable researchers to analyze how drivers behave or adjust their behavior after driving under automated mode for long periods of time.
Rural Roadway Expansion – Once opened in 2018, this will be the first research bed of its kind capable of testing AVs in a controlled rural setting. Built to 1965 standards, the track will feature hilly and winding roads, short sight distances, small bridges and narrow sections, off-road sections, embankments, soft grass shoulders, natural foliage overhanging the road, and rural intersections. Two-thirds of US roadways qualify as rural; one-third are unpaved.
Automation Hub – Slated to open in 2018, this interdisciplinary advanced learning facility will house a new internship program focused on accelerating hands-on practical skill development for Virginia Tech students. Interns will have the opportunity to collaborate with researchers from VDOT, the university, and VTTI, as well as automotive industry partners, on R&D projects.