‘Vehicles are getting smarter’: Vanderbilt, TDOT researching automated vehicle technology on I-24

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – All the congestion on Interstate 24 made it the perfect candidate for a study about how automated vehicle technology can improve traffic flow.

“The reason we want to do that is that vehicles are getting smarter,” said Dan Work, Vanderbilt University Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “I-24 is a highly congested freeway. There are 150,000 vehicles a day that pass through it and it’s a really nice test case because if automated vehicle technology can help tame and make the traffic on I-24 a little bit smoother, and a little bit more efficient, then that technology can be deployed around the world making commuters everywhere a little bit easier off.”

They’re partnering with TDOT to test automated vehicle technologies on I-24 as more and more vehicles are available with tools like vehicles that can steer you back into the lane if you’re drifting out or adaptive cruise control, which is smart cruise control that adjusts the speed of your vehicle in response to the car ahead so the driver doesn’t have to. He made it clear these are not autonomous vehicles that operate on their own altogether.

“If you go and buy one of the 10 best selling cars in America in 2021, 9 out of the 10 of those vehicles have adaptive cruise control either as a standard or optional feature,” said Work. “What’s interesting about those technologies is they can potentially change the way that traffic evolves on the roadway, eliminating the most annoying traffic jams that you and I face on a regular commute.”

However, he said they don’t have a good understanding of how to make those vehicles operate as efficiently as possible to where they improve traffic overall and not just the efficiency of the vehicle itself.

“Because automated vehicles drive a little bit differently than you and I do, they can potentially eliminate the traffic jams that we inadvertently create because of our inability to precisely follow speed control,” said Work.

The project I-24 MOTION will use 300 ultra HD cameras to anonymously capture every minute behavior of all vehicles on the road.

“In 2022 we’ll be completing a four-mile stretch of freeway that will have video cameras and anonymous computer vision algorithms that generate data to help study these vehicle interactions,” Work said. “It’ll be the largest traffic monitoring study anywhere in the country.”

He said the data that is collected is processed anonymously.

“Understanding and preserving the privacy of the driver on the freeway is an important goal for us,” Work said. “We’ll be doing that by making sure the video is anonymously processed and then dumped and we retain the useful scientific information that does not have any information about who, what, when, where, or why.”

Work said they’ll be deploying about 100 vehicles to help with their research.

“As part of our project with the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation we are deploying our own modified adaptive cruise control algorithms on cars so that they can help smooth out traffic jams created by other human drivers,” Work said. “As part of that work, we will deploy our own vehicles that are running adaptive cruise control on the freeway so we can measure how much our vehicles help improve traffic flow.”

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