Automated Vehicles and the Wisconsin Proving Grounds

By David Noyce, PhD, PE, F.ASCE
Dr. Arthur F. Hawnn Professor and Chair, UW-Madison
Peter Rafferty Researcher, UW-Madison College of Engineering

This column was published in the 2017 edition of Wisconsin Business Voice.

Automated vehicles (AVs) are reshaping not only the auto industry, but safety and mobil­ity worldwide. Not since the advent of the automobile has something been as disruptive in transportation, but we are still in the midst of a long transition. While automated features are increas­ingly available, the issues are complex and implications widespread, span­ning advanced technologies, policy and regulation, human factors and much more.

Wisconsin is positioned to play a key role in guiding policy and technol­ogy development, while bringing AV related jobs and economic growth to our region. In May 2017 Gov. Walker issued an executive order to create a committee on connected and automat­ed vehicles (CV/AV), with the mission to coordinate among agencies and identify “laws or rules that impede the testing and deployment of” CV/AVs.

Earlier in 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated Wiscon­sin as one of ten official Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds. Building on prior work, Wisconsin intends to remain at the forefront of these transformative technologies, and the R&D underway contributes to revolutionizing how the world uses transportation.

The Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds mission is to provide a path to pub­lic road evaluation by contributing to the safe and rapid advancement of automated vehicle development and deployment, and providing a full suite of test environments, coupled with research, open data and stakeholder communication. In addition to UW-Madison, the team includes private test tracks and industry partners, bringing diverse technical expertise in evalu­ation and assessment; mechanical, electrical, systems and transportation engineering; robotics, hardware, com­puter science and big data; sensing systems and high resolution basemap­ping; and simulation and modeling.

Safety is a chief motivator, with ris­ing traffic fatalities in Wisconsin and nationally. Because over 90 percent of crashes are attributable to human error and inattention, AVs have enormous potential to save lives. Automation also improves mobility and efficiency by increasing accessibility and capacity utilization, and allowing for more pro­ductive activity while traveling. Benefits from AVs extend to pedestrians and bicyclists, motorcyclists, transportation agencies, and the trucking industry.

Automotive and tech companies, in­cluding startups, are aggressively lead­ing the advances. Automated driver assistance features (e.g., lane assist, emergency braking) are now widely available. At the other end of the spec­trum, auto makers have already logged millions of miles of highly automated (driverless) testing, and driverless mini­buses on fixed routes are proliferating around the world.

In between, partial or conditional automation will be increasingly avail­able to consumers, which should work in limited situations, e.g., uncongested highways with clear pavement mark­ing. But the expectation here that drivers pay attention or remain avail­able to take over is in conflict with automation making it easier than ever to be distracted.

Safely navigating complex AV issues in the coming years will be challenging, and an incredible opportunity for Wis­consin. There has never been a better time for private-public partnerships and working with the multidisciplinary strength of UW-Madison’s research en­terprise to move Wisconsin companies to the forefront in this area. In parallel, a burgeoning CV/AV industry in Wiscon­sin will undoubtedly be a high tech job creator and build on the strengths of WMC members.

See the full issue of Wisconsin Business Voice.