The University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driving Simulator was awarded a $7 million grant in September 2019 to research the safe integration of automated driving systems. UI’s program was chosen as one of eight projects across the country that gathers data and insights about self-driving technologies and how to safely bring them to streets and highways. The U.S. Department of Transportation, which awarded the grant, received 73 project proposals for funding.
Developed in partnership with Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Transportation, UI’s project is called Automated Driving Systems for Rural America. It focuses on connecting rural and especially aging populations with automated vehicle technologies, as 22 percent Iowa’s population is expected to be over the age of 64 by 2030.
Testing is set up over eight phases and two-and-a-half years, during which researchers will compare different levels of automation with the occupant’s comfort and emotional states. The testing route will start in Iowa City and then travel through small towns via rural roads. The goal of the project is to improve driverless vehicle technologies and demonstrate how they can benefit the older and mobility-challenged members of Iowa’s communities.
This study is unique in that it focuses on rural areas, as other studies involving automated driving systems mostly focus on urban parts of the country. While only about 19 percent of Americans live in rural areas, almost 50 percent of traffic deaths occur on rural roads, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Among the supporters of the project is Iowa Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, who introduced legislation in 2018 for higher quality road mapping to create a better environment for driverless vehicles.
“We are going to have self-driving vehicles,” he said. “But we can make this safe and acceptable. I’m not in favor of driverless vehicles unless we can make sure these things are safe and this program is made to do that.”