Only a few decades ago, automated vehicles seemed like far-off, futuristic technology, but self-driving cars and other vehicles are now a reality on the road. As more and more people use this technology in their everyday lives, safety is becoming an increasingly important question for motorists and pedestrians. Researchers at The Ohio State University Automated Driving Lab are studying these technologies and working to make autonomous vehicles safer and more accessible for all.
“We do research on autonomous and connected vehicles and look at vehicle dynamics control,” said Levent Guvenc, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at The Ohio State University and co-director of the Automated Driving Lab. “We develop our own research vehicles by integrating off-the-shelf components, and we then test them to improve safety and mobility options for people who don’t have equitable access to transportation.”
An important part of ensuring the safety of autonomous vehicles is optimizing collision warning and avoidance. Driving a vehicle can be unpredictable, and it’s critical to interpret risks effectively. When the human element is removed from the driver’s seat, predicting the unpredictable is key to safety programming and technology.
“Mobile phones and their sensors are really good accelerometers, so why not use them,” Guvenc said. “You have Bluetooth, cloud, and internet connectivity, which connects everyone. We can use that information to locate pedestrians and bicyclists and predict their intent on the road, which can give you an edge in accident prevention. We can warn the autonomous vehicle in advance and change its motion to automate evasive maneuvering.”
This technology is tested through a new research method known as vehicle in a virtual environment (VVE), which was pioneered by the co-directors of the Automated Driving Lab. Through virtual reality, an automated vehicle can drive through a controlled environment such as a large parking lot yet operate according to obstacles in a virtual reality set up, which can be modeled after real locations.
“This research will be very useful in testing autonomous vehicles,” said Bilin Aksun Guvenc, research professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State and co-director of the Automated Driving Lab. “Because you don’t have to test on the roads, it will have a high impact on transportation, pedestrian, and vulnerable road-user safety. By putting the vehicle into the virtual environment, we can create and test all possible scenarios to save time and money.”
Ohio State isn’t the only institution that has helped Guvenc and Aksun Guvenc leverage their decades of experience to develop this research. Funding from the National Science Foundation and the Ohio Department of Transportation and donations from third-party companies have helped the lab co-directors work to solidify Ohio as a leader in the autonomous vehicle industry.
“We’re very proud that our research started here, and we hope that it will lead even more research efforts throughout Ohio in both autonomous and connected vehicle technologies,” Guvenc said. “With the excellent people and facilities at Ohio State and funding from the state and federal government, we’re able to make a big impact.”