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Self-driving vehicles will be on the road sooner than you think—and their presence could spark widespread and transformative changes. Two U of M researchers gave a glimpse of these changes in a session at Minnesota’s Transportation Conference in March, sponsored in part by CTS.

Companies from GM to Google are developing self-driving vehicle technology, said Adeel Lari, research fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Much of the current discussion focuses on the systems’ promise to eliminate driver error and avoid crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Other impacts, however, could increase travel. The elderly, people with disabilities, and children would gain mobility, Lari explained, and commuters who could sleep or work en route might choose to live further away from their jobs.

State and local coffers could see some impacts. More people might forgo car ownership and join a shared fleet service, reducing vehicle tax and license revenues, Lari said. Revenues from speeding and parking tickets would also drop.

Frank Douma, associate director of the Humphrey School’s State and Local Policy Program, then looked deeper into the legal and privacy implications of self-driving vehicles.

Current law is unclear, he said, but as vehicles assume more control, lawsuits are likely to shift from the driver to the manufacturer. Plaintiffs could also target vehicle owners for failing to maintain a vehicle adequately. As technology moves forward, Douma said, “the law needs to move with it.”

One way to help clarify liability is to use data from a vehicle’s black box, but this raises another issue: privacy. States offer varying levels of privacy protection, Douma said, and the courts have been wrestling with the issue. Protections could include setting limits on the data collected and how they can be used.

Read the full article in the May issue of Catalyst.

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Illustration: J. David Thorpe

Access to emergency medical services (EMS) following a serious crash is a long-standing rural safety problem in the United States. Since EMS service is based on population density, rural areas are often underserved, resulting in higher fatality rates per rural mile traveled.

In an effort to improve the effectiveness of EMS response and care coordination in these rural areas, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Claremont Graduate University have conducted a pilot study of the CrashHelp system in central Minnesota. The study, completed in partnership with the Central Minnesota Regional Trauma Advisory Committee, was funded by the Minnesota Departments of Transportation and Health as part of the Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths program.

CrashHelp is a smartphone-based system that allows emergency responders to collect multimedia data about crash victims on-scene and send it directly into emergency rooms. The information gives hospitals advance notification of crash severity and helps them best prepare for a patient’s arrival.

Between July 2012 and June 2013, CrashHelp was implemented and tested at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, Tri-County Hospital in Wadena, and the ambulance providers that serve these facilities.

During the pilot, more than 20 paramedics used CrashHelp to report on nearly 400 incidents, with overall positive results. Findings indicated that the system helped improve EMS data collection, communication between EMS personnel and the hospitals’ emergency departments, and decision-making by hospital personnel.

For emergency room staff, the information collected using CrashHelp was especially valuable for preregistering patients and assembling medical teams prior to a patient’s arrival—both of which allowed patients to get treated more quickly.

The pilot study also revealed that deeper integration of CrashHelp with existing trauma workflows, EMS policies and procedures, and existing electronic patient care report and health record systems would be essential for the sustained use and value of the system.

Read the full article in the April issue of Catalyst.

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With freight traffic increasing on U.S. roadways, commercial truck drivers often struggle to find safe and legal places to park. If parking spaces are not available at a nearby rest area or truck stop, drivers may be forced to pull over in unsafe locations or continue driving and become dangerously fatigued. Drivers may also risk violating federal hours-of-service rules, which require them to rest after 11 hours of driving.

In response to this issue, a team from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), University of Minnesota, and American Transportation Research Institute
 is developing a system that can identify available truck parking spaces and communicate the information to drivers—helping them determine when and where to stop. System benefits include improved safety, reduced driver fatigue, and better trip management.

The system uses a network of digital cameras suspended above a parking area to monitor space availability. Image processing software developed by researchers at the U of M’s computer science and engineering (CS&E) department analyzes the video frames and determines the number of available spaces.

As part of a demonstration project funded by MnDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, the project team is installing the system at three MnDOT rest areas and one private truck stop on I-94 west and northwest of the Twin Cities.

The U of M research team first installed the system in late 2012 at the the Elm Creek Rest Area, two miles north of Interstate 494 on I-94. As of early 2014, the system has been installed at an additional rest area, and a third site is in progress. 

Next steps for the project include implementing several mechanisms that will communicate parking information to truck drivers. First, the team plans to install variable message signs along I-94 this spring. Also in the works are an in-cab messaging system and a website.

Overall results of the demonstration project will help the team determine whether this technology holds promise for use in other corridors throughout the nation.

Read the full article in the February issue of Catalyst.

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In the not-too-distant future, your car will warn you if you’re getting drowsy, remember where potholes are on your route home, and apply the brakes at intersections. Advanced driver-assist systems combined with “big data” are moving us quickly to this day—offering the possibility to greatly reduce crashes or even make them a thing of the past.

At the CTS Fall Luncheon on December 3, Luca Delgrossi, director of driver assistance and chassis systems at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, offered his perspective of new developments in this innovative technology.

Delgrossi said the next generation of driving technology focuses on preventing crashes altogether with the use of richer sets of sensors covering a broader space around cars, as well as new actuators that can control the vehicle. Sophisticated in-car networks exchange data from one component to another, creating more powerful systems as well as system redundancy for reliability.

There are many other opportunities to help drivers who are distracted or facing a complex situation. One system, for example, would help drivers stay awake during long trips. It builds a profile from data collected in the first 20 minutes; during the rest of the trip, it checks to see if the driver is deviating from this pattern—and if so, gives an alert to take a break.

Delgrossi also touched on the potential for vehicles to share data with each other, such as warnings of icy roads ahead.

Ultimately, the goal of the upcoming technology is to avoid crashes by allowing cars to take more and more control.

“Hands-off driving is coming," Delgrossi said. “We need to bring technology to perfection to do this. That’s what the industry is working on. We will see progress in the next five to seven years.

Read the full article in the January issue of Catalyst.

CTS Fall Luncheon: Could crashes be a thing of the past?

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luncheon.jpgJoin us December 3 at the CTS Fall Luncheon to learn about the latest vehicle technologies from Mercedes-Benz North America.

While traditional vehicle safety technologies like seat belts and air bags have reduced injuries and fatalities over the decades, the next wave of technologies is focusing on ways to prevent crashes from happening in the first place. These systems, such as “6D vision” sensing technology and smart maps for connected vehicles, could make crashes much less common—and pave the way for self-driving cars.

At the luncheon, Luca Delgrossi, director of driver assistance and chassis systems U.S. at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, will discuss these technologies and when they might come to a car dealer near you.

Registration details are available on the CTS website.

Testing the waters for mileage-based user fees

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mbuf-title-2013.jpgFor the fourth year in a row, the State and Local Policy Program of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School has partnered with the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in sponsoring a Symposium on Mileage-based User Fees (MBUF). This year's symposium, held in conjunction with the ITS America Conference in Nashville, TN, focused on the technologies involved in charging drivers a fee to use roads based on mileage as well as public concerns such as privacy and implementation challenges. As an indicator of the interest in this issue, the International Bridge, Tolling and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) also held a Transportation Finance and Mileage-Based User Fee Symposium just a week before in Philadelphia, PA, in partnership with the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance (MBUFA), the Transportation Research Board, and the Humphrey School.

So is the public clamoring for MBUF? Not really. In fact, the public still needs to be convinced that the gas tax will not support our transportation system in the long-run, and that a new user-based system will be required to replace the gas tax in the future if we are to maintain our U.S. transportation infrastructure. The Minnesota Legislature funded an MBUF technology test with 500 Minnesota drivers as well as a policy study and task force to identify issues that must be addressed before an MBUF system could be implemented. The Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance has set up a web page to address five misconceptions about MBUF.

While Minnesota is one of several states that are studying and testing MBUF options, the State of Oregon took the first step toward implementation of a Road Usage Charging system by passing legislation in July 2013. The first step in Oregon will be to recruit 5,000 volunteers for the new Road Usage Charging System. The volunteers will have several option for how to pay the new charge, ranging from simple odometer readings to more advanced technology options that may be combined with other services for drivers. Stay tuned...

Lee Munnich is Director of the State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Munnich brings more than 20 years of state and local government experience to the study of public policy issues at the University of Minnesota. His research encompasses transportation’s role in the community, congestion pricing, rural transportation safety, and economic development.

New fuel cell prototype could power rural ITS applications

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Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies can be used to enhance transportation safety and mobility, but the sensors and communications equipment needed for ITS applications typically require access to electricity. In rural areas, limited access to the power grid can make it challenging to implement ITS devices.

Current solutions for providing power to off-grid locations include battery packs or diesel generators, both of which require constant maintenance to recharge, refuel, or replace. Other alternatives include solar panels and wind turbines, but cost and performance concerns have limited their use.

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"One of the issues with these green power alternatives, such as solar panels, is dependability... especially in the long, cold, and dark Minnesota winters," says Victor Lund, a traffic engineer with St. Louis County Public Works. Until this technology matures, there is a need for other options that can provide confidence in generating power, Lund says.

To provide a more effective and dependable power alternative, researchers from the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) have developed a portable prototype system that uses hydrogen-based fuel cells to generate electricity. The UMD research team was led by chemical engineering associate professor Steven Sternberg, and the project was sponsored by the ITS Institute.

The hydrogen-based fuel cell provides a clean, compact, high-efficiency energy source for an accompanying battery pack, which could be used to operate various ITS devices. The prototype is completely independent of the power grid, works well in cold weather, and requires maintenance only once each week for recharging. The cost of the system is about $7,500, with an additional operating cost of $2,000 per year for fuel materials.

Potential applications include powering variable message signs, dedicated short-range communication technologies, and warning blinkers on traffic signs. According to Lund, the system's applications extend beyond powering ITS devices. For instance, the fuel cells could be used for rural intersection roadway lighting or as a back-up source for traffic signals in case of a power outage.

Reprinted from CTS Catalyst, June 2013.

Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36521983488@N01/175482261/

Searching for common ground in the ITS privacy debate

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Should your vehicle be able to gather, store, or transmit information about where it's been--or where it's going? On the surface, it seems like a simple question. However, it inevitably gives rise to many others: Who will see the data? How will it be used? Can it be given or sold to a third party? Under what circumstances? Clearly, there are no straightforward solutions or answers in the debate surrounding privacy issues in intelligent transportation systems (ITS).

"The difficulty and complexity of these issues has resulted in an increasingly disconnected public discussion about privacy and ITS," says Frank Douma, a researcher in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. "In one camp are privacy advocates, and in the other camp are technologists and the ITS industry, who generally view privacy issues as secondary when compared with the tremendous benefits of these technologies. The disconnect often results in the two sides talking past each other, with too little energy spent finding potential common ground."

According to Douma, one cause of this disconnect is a lack of clarity on both sides about the needs, goals, and interests of those involved. To address this divide, a multidisciplinary team of U of M researchers has published a report that sheds new light on the ITS privacy debate by mapping and assessing the interests of all participants. The team was led by Douma and research assistant Tom Garry, and the project was sponsored by the ITS Institute.

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The ITS privacy debate involves an interlaced web of participants with multiple interests.

Researchers began their analysis by pinpointing exactly who should be concerned about privacy as ITS technologies are developed and implemented and what their goals are with respect to privacy data. A number of diverse participant groups were identified, including ITS developers, transportation users, the government, data collectors, data users, and secondary users such as marketers and litigants.

"We found few black-and-white divides among participants in the privacy debate," says Douma. "For example, transportation users are not simply pro-privacy, and data collectors are not inherently anti-privacy. Individuals are willing to share their locational data in exchange for real benefits in a variety of circumstances, such as GPS guidance or electronic tolling. However, there are also limits to this willingness."

Because of this nuanced landscape, researchers concluded that while there is no all-encompassing solution to the ITS privacy debate, there are a number of potential avenues and tools for finding common ground. Their recommendations include setting limits on the time data can be retained, prohibiting unrelated secondary use of data, designing ITS systems with privacy in mind, avoiding the collection of personally identifiable locational information when possible, and implementing privacy policies such as the use of clear privacy notices.

"It's also important to remember that the positions of participants in this debate are not entrenched," says Douma. "As technology changes, privacy expectations will also likely evolve as well, such that what may seem important today is less so, and something we are not considering today could be critically important in the future. Consequently, it's very important that this conversation continue in the years to come."

Reprinted from the CTS Catalyst, May 2013.

New vehicles today are sophisticated driving machines--and they're also becoming rich sources of information. Sensors collect data about everything from how fast you're going to when the wipers kick in. At the same time, GPS navigation systems and the infrastructure built for mobile devices are making it increasingly possible to track where vehicles are and gather vast amounts of data. What does this mean for safety? Capturing the actual behavior of drivers could lead to a "behavioral map" revealing how drivers dynamically experience and adapt to road networks--and give engineers and designers insight for creating a safer driving experience. Read more in April Catalyst.

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E-mail: cts@umn.edu

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