The Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University, in close collaboration with Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) and the rest of the College of Engineering at Texas A&M University, has been working on a Program that we call the “CAST” Program, standing for research in “Connected, Autonomous, and Safe Transportation” technologies. This is a unique program across the nation focusing on advancing the state of the art in the context of “Safety” of autonomous and connected vehicles, considering not just vehicles individually, but as an entire eco-system of autonomous, semi-autonomous as well as manually driven vehicles, passengers and other traffic systems.
Rationale for a Safety Focused Research Program:
Transportation systems and associated mobility are at the cusp of a tectonic shift, comparable to the shift from horse drawn carriages to automobiles more than a century ago.
Human beings have traditionally been in the driver’s seat of automobiles – and that is beginning to change with the emergence of various automation capabilities in automobiles. Studies predict that more than 50% of the vehicles sold and traveled will be autonomous by 2050.
This shift is heralded as potentially providing huge benefits to the society at large. Studies predict that with a 50% penetration, autonomous vehicles will lead to 9600 lives saved per year, 1.9M fewer crashes, $50B economic saving, 1.6B hours saved through less time traveled, and 224M gallons lesser fuel consumed. (“Preparing a Nation for Autonomous Vehicles”, Eno Report, Oct 2013).
However, in tandem with all the potential benefits, there is also significant concern on some serious risks and barriers that need to be addressed in order to realize the promised benefits. One big concern is the question of Safety and Security.
The sheer complexity of automotive software and electronics alone poses significant challenges to safety. We have seen a growing number of high profile and large scale software related failures in a number of industries, and specifically in the automobile industry. This concern is enormously amplified as we consider the introduction of “artificial intelligence” and “learning systems”, as well as a plethora of sensors of varying precision that have to work in very diverse and harsh environments.
While there are many public and private research initiatives across the nation, and even across the world, focused on advancing autonomous and mobility technologies, there remains a critical need to perform focused research on the various safety aspects related to autonomous and connected vehicles.
Our Founding Director HIAS Fellow Prof. Karl Hedrick laid out a clear vision and focus for this Program. Prof. Karl Hedrick unfortunately passed away in Feb 2017, but his legacy continues as we enthusiastically continue the execution of his vision.
Our vision is to advance research and knowledge generation in the area of safety technologies, methods, and processes for the autonomous vehicle landscape comprising the full eco-system of manually driven, semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles and mixed-traffic consisting of cars, trucks, two-wheelers and pedestrians, connected between each other and with the infrastructure.
Our specific goal is to accelerate the achievement of all the promised societal and economic benefits of autonomous mobility.
- Perform focused research towards development of advanced algorithms, analysis and implementations of autonomous vehicle systems with an explicit focus on safety, congestion relief, performance and technology transfer.
- Develop, document, and demonstrate through practice: methods, processes and tools to support safe and reliable development and testing of autonomous vehicles
- Engineer “Technology Demonstrator Platforms” that will serve as platforms for performing the above research, and will serve as visible application platforms for confirmation of the developed technologies.
- Leverage the “Technology Demonstrator Platforms” as learning platforms where students get to learn and get hands-on experience working with the state-of-the-art in autonomous technologies.
Collaborative across Texas A&M:
The CAST program is a highly collaborative initiative, bringing in the deep expertise and capabilities across the College of Engineering, as well as the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). A brief biographical sketch of some of the members is provided later.
The CAST program will leverage the superior infrastructure with proving grounds and connectedness available at the RELLIS Campus, part of the Texas A&M System at College Station. The Texas A&M System has been named as a “Dedicated Proving Grounds” for automated vehicle development by the Department of Transportation .