Striving for safety on road to autonomy

Posted: September 3, 2020

A national research consortium led by The Ohio State University will address and develop solutions to autonomous vehicle safety and security challenges. Designated as one of four new Tier 1 University Transportation Centers (UTCs) by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the consortium also includes University of California, Irvine, University of Cincinnati and University of Texas at Austin.

Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska
Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska

According to College of Engineering Associate Dean for Research Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska, special emphasis will be placed on the security of the positioning, navigation and timing components associated with highly automated transportation systems. While research and testing will begin with ground-based vehicles, extensions could include aviation and waterway transportation.

Automated and autonomous vehicles rely on a continuous flow of information and data via the Global Positioning System (GPS), one component of the Global Navigation Satellite System. Supported by a $1.9 million grant, the UTC led by Ohio State will develop technology to combat GPS vulnerabilities to intentional attacks by hackers or unintentional interruptions.

Precise and timely location data flow is essential both for short-range driving control and long-range navigation and planning. The risks of inadequate or misleading situational information include collisions and increased traffic congestion.

Zak Kasass

The principal investigator and UTC center director is University of California, Irvine (UCI) Associate Professor Zak Kassas. An Ohio State electrical and computer engineering alumnus, he is the director of UCI’s Autonomous Systems Perception, Intelligence and Navigation Lab. To ensure tight inter-institutional collaboration, Kassas has a joint appointment at Ohio State, where he will spend four months per year of UTC activity. “Autonomy is upon us, so to speak, and in order for the Department of Transportation and industry to gain trust of the general public, it is critical that the safety and security of those vehicles are absolutely assured,” said Grejner-Brzezinska, a global leader in positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) research who as serves as UTC co-principal investigator. “We have assembled a superlative team of PNT and transportation experts to study this problem and offer concrete solutions.”

The UTC will leverage several world class research operations at Ohio State, including the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), the Satellite Positioning and Inertial Navigation (SPIN) Lab and the ElectroScience Lab (ESL), the university-affiliated Transportation Research Center (TRC), and The Ohio State University Airport. Located in East Liberty, Ohio, TRC recently opened their SMARTCenter, the nation’s largest autonomous vehicle proving grounds.

In a recent interview with the Columbus Dispatch, U.S. Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Diana Furchtgott-Roth said the review team was impressed with Ohio State and its partners. “The team at Ohio State has written extensively on positioning, navigation, timing, and resiliency. It’s conducted pioneering work in the field. They’ve conducted tests of interference and spoofing and developed techniques to achieve resilient, accurate and assured positioning navigation and timing in many, many difficult environments.”

TRC's SMARTCenter connected, signalized intersection
TRC's SMARTCenter connected, signalized intersection

To facilitate technology transfer and industry collaboration, UTC leaders have established an advisory board of experts from industry, academia and government, including local and state transportation officials.

The UTC also plans to supplement each university’s accredited undergraduate and graduate programs with new curriculum development, an inaugurated student exchange program, and a biannual symposium connecting students with industry.

Reflecting the popularity of the program that launched in 1988, the Department of Transportation received 67 grant applications for the four new Tier 1 UTCs. Ohio State also is currently a partner in another UTC led by Carnegie Mellon University, which began in 2017 and is focused on cutting-edge technologies for next-generation vehicles and mobility services.