Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) conducts initial-stage investigations using reference searches, scans, and convening workshops to seek innovative ideas and advances in science and engineering that could, but currently are not, being applied in highway transportation. The purpose of seeking innovative ideas is to encourage collaboration between FHWA technical experts, other experts in the highway research community, and experts from other disciplines and industries, who can share new approaches and insights that could lead to transformative improvements in highway transportation.
Not all innovative ideas lead to Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program investments. Of the 20 to 25 ideas that the EAR Program considers annually, about one in four lead to funded research. The EAR Program seeks to leverage advances in science and engineering that could lead to breakthrough research for critical current and emerging issues in highway transportation—where the issues can be clearly articulated, but solutions are not obvious; where there is a community of experts from different disciplines, who likely have the talent and the interest in researching solutions, and who likely would not do so without EAR Program funding.