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Sensing the way for autonomous vehicles

10/13/2020 McCall Macomber

Picture this: Pavements sensing when a vehicle is about to cross into another lane.

That’s the future Jeffery Roesler hopes to build with his recent work on autonomous and connected vehicles with the Center for Connected and Automated Transportation and Illinois Center for Transportation.

Jeffery R. Roesler
Jeffery R. Roesler

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor’s work centers around passive sensing — where material properties are strategically altered so that pavement communicates with sensors in the vehicle, similarly to how vehicle cameras detect lane marking.

“Vehicles move side to side naturally, and you need to be able to keep that vehicle within the 12-foot lane,” he said.

“If for some reason the vehicle can’t maneuver in that 12-foot lane because it can’t see the edge of the lane like a human can with their own eyes, then you need to have a reliable backup system,” he added.

But in inclement weather, cameras do not “function as accurately,” Roesler said.

“So, this system that we’re trying to develop is really a secondary system to the primary camera maneuvering and guidance system that these vehicles have,” he added.

One such option is to alter the electrical conductivity of concrete pavements by embedding a longitudinal slice of steel-fiber reinforced concrete.

The fibers would enable the vehicle to “act like a metal detector” to help vehicles know their lateral position in the lane based on finding the conductive material.

Thanks to Roesler’s work, autonomous and connected vehicles are one step closer.

“In terms of moving vehicles and humans rapidly and efficiently, the safety improvements and cost savings for drivers would be enormous,” he said.

“If we’re able to at least deploy these technologies in the roadways that carry 50 percent of our traffic volume, like our interstates and arterial roadways, then we’re going to see great reductions in accidents, fatalities and user delay costs, which means reductions in liability and insurance costs as well as more available time for drives,” he added.

The future couldn’t be brighter for Roesler and fellow roadway engineers.

“It’s an exciting time for roadway engineers and other professionals who work on the associated infrastructure that are essential for the implementation of autonomous and connected vehicles,” he said. “The infrastructure needs to be speaking to the vehicles, and without the connection between the infrastructure and vehicles, the deployment of autonomous vehicles will take much longer than people are predicting.”

“That’s the exciting part for civil engineering,” he added. “We’re going to be in charge of seeing this vehicle technology refined, adopted and implemented into our roadway infrastructure for the benefit of the traveling public.”