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America’s Changing Transportation Landscape

Bird's eye view of city traffic.


  • Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs) can improve efficiency and safety on America’s roads.
  • UT’s research on the automation of air and space vehicles is informing CAV development.
  • Asad Khattak and his research colleagues are developing a CAV certification system.

CAVs Learning from Air and Space Vehicle Automation

Talking about connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) with those outside transportation engineering often elicits comments about the Jetsons to Professor Asad Khattak.

Asad KhattakWhile the television show sparked daydreams about automated hovercraft in futuristic suburbs in the sky, Khattak is interested in applying research about air and space travel technologies to ground transportation right here on Earth in present day.

“The knowledge about automation of air and space vehicles, whether airplanes or Mars rovers, can be brought to bear on how we should be using automation for our cars,” Khattak said, reflecting on the strengths of diverse partnerships within Tennessee.

With a recent Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) grant, Khattak and three other cohorts from UT including CEE Professor Lee Han have partnered with researchers at UT Chattanooga, UT Space Institute, and East Tennessee State University to contribute to the next phase of CAV development through virtual and field testing.

Improving Driver Safety and Efficiency

Researchers are hopeful that CAVs can transform the transportation industry to reduce traffic fatalities. In Tennessee, fatalities exceed 1,000 per year, with 38,000 per year nationwide. CAVs can also mitigate traffic congestion, which costs an estimated $1.1 billion annually in Tennessee’s four largest cities.

While some basic levels of automation are already available to most consumers through certain vehicle features, vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity is still being explored in research testbeds like the one Khattak and his partners are developing.

“If my car can talk with the traffic signal, and I can tell the vehicle when it’s going to turn red or green, then I can better anticipate conditions and adjust my speed accordingly to save fuel and enhance safety,” Khattak said. “When vehicles can talk to other surrounding vehicles, drivers will better understand the actions of vehicles in front and experience smoother flow of traffic and fewer collisions. Right now, all I can do is guess the speed of the car in front of me and guess how strongly it’s braking.”

Many Challenges Ahead

CAV researchers still have many challenges ahead. For one thing, increasing levels of automation requires drivers to give up corresponding control, and that’s not an easy concept for many people. Ultimately, the goal is for cars to take over driving to eliminate potential human errors and create a safer transportation environment for everyone.

Consumers are already passively moving toward CAVs by buying cars with more automation. However, it is part of our job to anticipate the fringe cases where the artificial intelligence-based system that drives the car is going to fail, resulting in collisions.”

—Asad Khattak

One of the biggest challenges to this endeavor is attempting to understand a disruptive technology in real time when people’s lives depend on sensors and data, which is why one of the aims of this TDOT project is to develop a testing and certification system with highly automated vehicles before they are put on the road.

“There are a lot of dependencies and complexities,” Khattak said. “Right now, we don’t have certification systems for highly automated vehicles.”

To help, the research team is developing a taxonomy of the different human errors as well as a digital twin of the infrastructure that includes CAVs.

Khattak is optimistic that these challenges can be overcome and CAVs will eventually reduce human errors through warnings and alerts, taking over control in potential crash situations, and automating tasks performed by drivers.

Élan Young: