• Fall 2013

    Volume 36, Number 1

    Virginia Tech Magazine, fall 2013

  • Operating at the forefront of transportation research requires significant capabilities—such as a research platform that can generate rain, snow, and fog; an intersection with stoplights; and 14 different pavement sections, to name a few. Enter the Smart Road, a 2.2-mile road near the Tech campus, where Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) researchers are developing and testing devices for vehicles that will increase driver safety.

  • Smart Road facts

    • Managed by VTTI and owned and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Smart Road was opened in 2000.

    • The road, 2.2. miles long, features 14 pavement sections, including a zero-crown section designed for flooded-pavement testing.

    • Spanning the road, 75 weather-making towers, are capable of producing varying amounts of snow, rain, and fog.

    • The road's bridge, which crosses Wilson Creek and towers above Ellett Valley, is the tallest bridge in Virginia at 175 feet.

    • 511 Virginia, which delivers traffic information throughout the commonwealth, is monitored 24/7, 365 days a year from the Smart Road control room.

    • The 1 millionth minute of research was logged this spring on the Smart Road, coinciding with VTTI's 25th anniversary.

    Fall 2013

    The Architect of Growth: The legacy of a visionary president

    Elevating the Arts: A preview of the Center for the Arts' grand opening

    Wheel Whisperers: Smart Road talks to vehicles—all in the name of safety

    Tech-Savvy Success in the Heart of Blacksburg

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    Wheel Whisperers

    How vehicles talk to a road—and each other—to improve safety

    by Hilary Andreas

    One in seven crash fatalities occurs on a motorcycle, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s why Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) researchers knew they needed to take action. Researchers partnered with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to conduct a large-scale real-life study to better understand the crash problems associated with motorcycle riding. Using the Smart Road, a state-of-the-art, closed test-bed research facility located just off Virginia Tech’s campus, VTTI researchers are developing devices for both motorcycles and cars that will increase their safety on the road.

    VTTI is testing a variety of effective, yet non-obtrusive, methods to deliver warnings to riders. Researchers create different scenarios on the Smart Road for the rider to respond to and then observe the reactions to warnings presented by various approaches, such as LED lights in helmets, vibrating gloves, or Bluetooth earpieces.

    One day, vehicles might communicate with each other, alerting drivers to potential hazards. Researchers test the effectiveness of antennas and GPS systems on motorcycles to allow for communication, such as notifying drivers as motorcycles get close, warning cars and motorcycles when approaching dangerous traffic conditions, and providing other information pertinent to increasing awareness on the road.

    Smart Road

    1 A display screen provides a visual warning to the rider in the event of an approaching danger.

    2 Five cameras provide researchers with a 360-degree view around the motorcycle, as well as a visual on the rider so they can more fully understand the rider's reaction in various scenarios.

    3 Radar provides information on the location of the motorcycle for surrounding cars and motorcycles, which are also equipped with the technology.

    4 The data-acquisition system choreographs sensors around the bike to record acceleration, how far the motorcycle is leaning at various points, how long the response time is between the warning and applying pressure to the brakes, and other kinematic measures.

    5 On-board equipment is mounted in a compartment inside the motorcycle to protect it from the outside elements. This system includes a radio that communicates with roadside equipment during testing, as well as the ability to process possible dangers and signal warnings to the rider.

    Hilary Andreas, a senior English major, was an intern with Virginia Tech Magazine.

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