Today, the Department of Transportation held a press event announcing new policy statements regarding highly automated vehicles and their presence on US roads. According to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who spoke at the event, these guidelines are intended to be a proactive approach for “building safety in at the ground floor… not as an afterthought” of the future of autonomous vehicles, as well as creating a “culture of safety” around vehicle automation. Henry Claypool, Policy Director of the Community Living Policy Center at UCSF, later stated “Autonomous vehicles hold enormous potential to improve the lives of millions of Americans, like me, who because of disability, age, or other condition, are not able to enjoy easy access to personal transportation.”
The MIT AgeLab was one of six academic affiliated entities invited to bring a research vehicle to this important press event. The other research groups attending were from Carnegie Melon University, Stanford, University of Michigan, University of California – Berkeley, and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. The AgeLab, located within MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics and serving as the headquarters for the New England University Transportation Center, was the only organization to bring a vehicle with advanced automation features that are currently publicly available in the US, rather than a prototype of a highly automated vehicle. This selection highlights the significance of the AgeLab’s approach to studying currently deployed automated vehicle technologies. By focusing on vehicles currently available to consumers, researchers in the AgeLab are deeply exploring the transition that is occurring on our nation’s roads from one where vehicles are entirely manually driven to one where automation provides an increasing level of moment-to-moment and safety protective control. Active work is investigating how this transition affects drivers, and how best to educate drivers on the functionality, limitations, and safe use of advanced vehicle technologies.
The AgeLab has been studying these topics as part of the Advanced Vehicle Technology (AVT) consortium since last September. Little is known about whether or not regular drivers are using advanced vehicle technologies safely, or how and when drivers choose to engage or disengage these systems under real-world driving conditions. The AVT consortium is actively leveraging naturalistic and field operational studies, as well as new analytic and “big data” methodologies, to develop large scale objective data on these and other critical questions. This work aims to provide insight on how drivers interact with various production implementations of these technologies that the industry can learn from to support further improvement. The goal of this effort is to improve driver safety and consumer understanding of automation during and after the transition to highly automated vehicles. Like NHTSA, the AgeLab believes advanced vehicle systems to be “dynamic emerging technologies,” and is committed to focusing on the potential safety and mobility benefits of highly automated vehicles.
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