the future of driving
Advances in computer and communications technology are opening worlds of new possibilities for solving the safety-related problems that have existed since the first automobile was invented over 200 years ago, such as how to prevent accidents, consume less energy, and make travel faster, safer, and less expensive overall.
As Director of Safety Research and Development for the United States Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Monique Evans and her organization are leading the way in some truly cutting-edge applications of transportation research and technology that are not only helping to make road-based transportation safer than ever before, but are changing the future of driving as we know it.
“Our research and development program,” she said, “is about solving the [transportation] problems that we have today, as well as envisioning the type of future that we want. If you like to think about the future and you want to make a change. ? you can do that in R&D.”
Evans described a number of exciting new projects and technologies the FHWA is currently investigating that could make major waves in vehicle transportation during our lifetime?some of which sound almost like science fiction. Companies have already released vehicles that can self-park, for example, and cars are even being developed that can come to you when you call them. But these and other technologies represent only the beginning of a new wave of semi- or fully-autonomous “smart” vehicles that might be able to drive you to work or school, automatically swerve to avoid a crash, or even someday make traditional illuminated stop lights a thing of the past.
For example, in 2015, the Strategic Highway Research Plan 2 (SHRP2) Naturalistic Driving Study will finish gathering over 4 petabytes (that’s equivalent to about 4 million 1 gigabyte USB flash drives) of video and performance data from vehicles driven by 3,100 drivers in six states in naturalistic (real-life) conditions. The collected data will help researchers better understand human driving behavior, which will be helpful for developing safety countermeasures to prevent accidents.
A second FHWA program, the Connected Vehicles Initiative, is studying the use of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technologies that will allow cars to communicate with each other and with the surrounding road infrastructure. This could mean vehicles that can detect and avoid collisions before they occur; traffic signals that are perfectly timed to maximize traffic flow; and an overall safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly transportation system.
Evans said she is excited about the changes that are already taking place in the transportation industry, and that she continues to look forward to the work she and the FHWA do every day to improve the safety of the transportation system.
“In this particular career field there’s always something new, it’s always a different challenge. So it gets exciting,” she said. “For me, personally, it’s about the ability to really make a difference and see what you’ve done, how it impacts not just small groups, but all of society. It’s really gratifying to see that you can make an actual difference in improving people’s lives through the work that you do.”? ?
If you’re interested in learning more about the future of transportation, or think you might like to explore a career in transportation safety, it’s never too early or too late to start. You can learn more about the FHWA and their mission by visiting the FHWA website. If you’re already preparing or will be preparing for college, keep in mind that the FHWA also offers a number of college scholarships and career internships for students pursuing careers in transportation.