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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-12-033    Date:  December 2012
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-12-033
Date: December 2012


The Exploratory Advanced Research Program

Recent International Activity in Cooperative Vehicle–Highway Automation Systems


U.S. Activities

Although the United States established a clear position of international leadership in CVHAS in the mid-1990s, the level of activity in this area has declined significantly since then. There have been several R&D efforts continued in recent years but at relatively modest funding levels. The following experiments have used full–scale vehicles with partial or full control of driving functions and V2V or V2I cooperation:

There has also been a simulation study of the operation of arterial intersections with fully automated vehicles—using a slot reservation protocol to provide system–level coordination of their movements—by the University of Texas at Austin with support from FHWA’s Exploratory Advanced Research Program.

General Motors has entered the CyberCar world with their development of a two-person, two-wheeled dynamically balanced vehicle called the EN/V (pronounced envy) in collaboration with Segway. The first technical documentation of this vehicle was presented at the 2011 ITS World Congress in Orlando, FL, combined with a public demonstration of the vehicle (which was also exhibited very prominently at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo).(32) The EN/V showed sophisticated short–range obstacle detection and avoidance and automated platooning capabilities, including completely unmanned and remote–controlled operations, which appear to exceed the technical capabilities of the analogous but more highly publicized European developments.

Much media attention has been attracted by the DARPA Challenges for autonomous automated vehicles and the subsequent announcement by Google that it is experimenting with autonomous automated vehicles on public roads in the vicinity of its headquarters. A variety of university research groups have also been working on autonomous automated driving research, but these activities are outside the scope of this review.

Similarities and Differences Between Overseas and U.S. Situations

This review of current international status on road vehicle automation has revealed some significant similarities and differences between the situations overseas and in the United States. Resources to support new developments are tight everywhere, but the current level of activity appears to be higher overseas and the planning horizons are longer.


The growing use of hybrid–electric and all–electric powertrains has increased the in-vehicle electrical power availability and voltage significantly, making it easier to add electronic and electro-mechanical subsystems, such as the sensors and actuators needed for automated driving. Electronic actuation systems for steering, braking, and engine control are becoming standard equipment on more vehicles, leading to increased production economies of scale.

The research teams working on automation have encountered some of the same primary operational concept dilemmas as the NAHSC did in the 1990s, without resolving them. These dilemmas are as follows:

Institutional issues, such as uncertainties about liability exposure, are impeding more active development and implementation of automated driving systems. Vehicle manufacturers are reluctant to provide functions that could remove the driver from the vehicle control loop without some assurance about their liability exposure in the event of a crash. In Europe, the situation is further complicated by the Vienna Convention and legal systems that handle this issue differently, motivating the need for European–level harmonization of policies and possibly legislation.


Implications of These Contrasts for Future U.S. Actions

The United States pioneered thinking about and development of road traffic automation systems for several decades, from the GM Futurama of the late 1930s(8) through the NAHSC research and demonstration of the late 1990s. During the past decade, Army research, the DARPA Challenges, and the ensuing Google development work have advanced technologies for individual vehicle-oriented automation, largely independent of traffic considerations. At the same time, the levels of activity in road traffic automation have increased significantly in Europe and Japan, to the extent that at this point in time they probably have the leading expertise in the world in several key areas:

The sponsors of the European and Japanese work have strong interests in industrial competitiveness and in developing their ability to export products to the rest of the world. Unless the United States invests some effort in automation systems soon, it will have no choice but to import the systems from Europe and Japan when it needs them.

The European and Japanese systems, however, have been developed based on somewhat different requirements, needs, and economic and societal constraints derived from the characteristics of their transportation systems. For example, the density of development and land costs in Europe and Japan are substantially higher than in the United States, which leads them to reject the concept of dedicated lanes for automated vehicles a priori. The automobiles currently being sold in other countries are substantially better equipped with advanced driver assistance systems than are U.S. vehicles (and indeed most of the vehicles that have these systems in the United States are imported from Europe or Japan). This means that the incremental costs of adding automation capabilities are likely to be smaller in Europe and Japan, because they are starting from a higher baseline. Both of these factors tend to tilt toward more vehicle-intensive solutions in other countries than what may be ideal for U.S. applications.

The United States still retains some important strengths relative to Japan and Europe in the field of automation:

The United States can build on the combination of its extensive heritage of experience and capabilities relative to automated road transport, its current areas of international leadership, and the knowledge being developed in current programs in other countries to develop a robust program in automated road transportation. The focus should be on areas in which U.S. needs differ from the needs of other countries and where it can build on the strengths that it already has. Suggested actions include:


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