Automated vehicles hit proving grounds

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Jan. 19 that the U.S. Department of Transportation has designated 10 proving ground pilot sites to encourage testing and information sharing around automated vehicle technologies.

These proving ground designations will foster innovations that can safely transform personal and commercial mobility, expand capacity, and open new doors to disadvantaged people and communities.

Next step

These designations are a logical next step in the department’s effort to advance the safe deployment of automated technology.

The proving grounds will also provide critical insights into optimal big data usage through automated vehicle testing and will serve as a foundation for building a community of practice around automated vehicle research.

Designees were selected from a competitive group of over 60 applicants. Applicants included academic institutions, state Departments of Transportation, cities, and private entities and partnerships.

Proving grounds designees all have different facilities that can be used to gauge safety, manage various roadways and conditions and handle various types of vehicles.

Locations

The Proving Ground designees are:

  • City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute
  • Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership
  • U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center
  • American Center for Mobility at Willow Run
  • Contra Costa Transportation Authority & GoMentum Station
  • San Diego Association of Governments Iowa City Area Development Group
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners
  • North Carolina Turnpike Authority

The future of transportation undoubtedly includes vehicles that operate with little or no input from human operators, according to Peter Rafferty, a program manager at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory.

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who announced the proving grounds, expects them to serve as a network of pooled expertise to speed the safe deployment of driverless vehicles.

Challenges

“There are still a lot of questions of safety and human interaction and plenty of technological challenges that need addressing,” says Rafferty.

“The Department of Transportation wants to make sure the lessons learned in that work are being shared, and being involved in this network means Wisconsin has access to that knowledge and an opportunity to contribute.”

“AV technology in development ranges from one- and two-person vehicles and small buses for local trips up to platoons of trucks driving in tandem on the interstate,” Rafferty says. “We have places to test most or all of them.”

The Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds includes MGA’s Burlington site — 400 acres of roadways and crash-testing facilities originally built as a proving ground for American Motors cars — and the 4-mile racing circuit at Road America in Plymouth provide secure environments for AV testing.

The sprawling headquarters of Epic Systems in Verona and UW-Madison’s own streets are also included in the proving grounds.

“There’s evidence of unmet demand for these proving grounds — controlled roads where you can safely challenge a vehicle and figure out how to make it react differently to a big rock in its way than it would to a shopping bag in the street or to tell the difference between the ruts that develop in new snow and broken pavement,” says Rafferty.

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