Driven by Safety Concerns

cee2016
July 10, 2017

Those of us who commute to work via I-495, I-66, or any of America’s other congested highways know the frustration of sitting—just sitting—for minutes at a time. Imagine if we were able to commute on accident-free, congestion-free highways. 

Although this still is a dream, it’s not as far off as some may think, thanks to the work of researchers like Samer Hamdar. Dr. Hamdar and his team are working on several transportation engineering projects with the goals of increasing driver safety and decreasing congestion. 

With funding from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early CAREER Award—the most prestigious grants that the NSF awards to junior faculty—he and his research group are working to develop models of teenage driving behavior that can be incorporated into automobile safety systems. 

“We collect trajectory data on teenage drivers through driving simulators, so we can understand the behaviors that might lead to collisions,” Dr. Hamdar explains. “Then we confirm this data with data we obtain from an instrumented vehicle, and we can model it and propose different active or passive control systems to avoid such unsafe behavior.” 

Dr. Hamdar’s team will look specifically at car-following and lane changing behaviors and will develop control algorithms from the data they collect. The control systems they will then propose could range from simply presenting warnings to the driver to developing mechanisms that take over control of the car. 

According to Dr. Hamdar, his team’s research goes beyond other similar research in two respects. All other similar research uses only statistics and the probability models they derive from data they get in the field, while his team models collisions from actual driver behavior. Their model also incorporates data on the vehicle’s post-collision movement to try to further reduce any negative impacts of an accident. 

“We believe we will have a connected system that’s tailored to each driver’s needs and the errors that he might make,” says Dr. Hamdar. “By tailoring the system to the driver, we will encourage the driver’s responsiveness to the system and trust in it, which is particularly important as we move to semi-autonomous driving systems.” 

Dr. Hamdar is working on a separate semi-autonomous driving system project with Dr. Adam Wickenheiser of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. As society moves toward such systems, the assumption is that the automation will remove human error, producing smoother traffic interactions and reducing congestion. But those assumptions need to be tested. Drs. Hamdar and Wickenheiser are working on a pilot project that does just that. By using robo-cars equipped with small personal computers and cameras and allowing them to interact with each other, they plan to test the impact, on both safety and congestion, of vehicle-to-vehicle interaction in a semi-autonomous driving environment.