U of I autonomous test track moves into conceptualization

11/1/2021 Angeli Jayme and McCall Macomber

The Illinois Autonomous and Connected Track, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s proposed high-speed, multimodal test track in Rantoul, Ill., is one step closer to breaking ground.

AECOM, an infrastructure consulting firm, will serve as the primary consultant to conceptualize the track.

The University of Illinois Facilities and Services led a kick-off meeting between AECOM, university leads and the Smart Transportation Infrastructure Initiative team on Aug. 30, 2021.

The group’s discussions currently focus on the track’s main outer loop, which will define I-ACT’s property limits.

The track is expected to stretch across over 400 acres at Rantoul’s former Chanute Air Force Base. The Rantoul Village Board approved an agreement with the University of Illinois on Aug. 10.

Future group discussions will center on fine-tuning the track’s design and preparing a stakeholder event hosted by STII’s team, who will present alternative designs for the track to stakeholders.

The event will allow stakeholders’ to give feedback in order to reach a collaborative consensus on I-ACT’s design elements that will be mutually beneficial for all stakeholders, from private industry, public agencies and academic partners.

For Imad Al-Qadi, STII director and UIUC Bliss Professor of Engineering, the chance to collaborate with other entities to develop I-ACT’s conceptual plan is “exciting.”

“We’re closer to reaching a monumental vision to advance mobility in the state of Illinois, the nation and world at large by contributing to mobility connectivity, data science, health monitoring, cyber security, automation, electrification, construction innovation, energy harvesting, human factors and policy, among others,” Al-Qadi said.

Three key research efforts for I-ACT are underway that aim to prepare for the future track.

The first of which is an Illinois Department of Transportation-sponsored project known as “Planning for Emerging Mobility: Testing and Deployment in Illinois” and is led by Al-Qadi.

This project works complementary to I-ACT’s conceptualization, as researchers will define the design elements of 5G connectivity, energy harvesting and electrification components suitable for I-ACT’s needs.

Al-Qadi’s team will also provide a business plan detailing the market trends of those technologies in conjunction with technology design recommendations.

As part of the effort, Sandy Dall’erba, UIUC Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics professor, led an independent study that examines I-ACT’s economic impact from 2021 to 2050.

The study estimates I-ACT will generate $3.53 billion of total impact on Illinois’ economy, $483 million in total (local, state, and federal) tax revenue and more than 23,000 full-time equivalent jobs by 2050.

Eight STII projects, funded by UIUC’s Investment for Growth Program, are also ongoing and cover the following topics:

  • Application-network co-design for V2V sensor streaming
  • Autonomous vehicle-based quantum communication network
  • Enabling self-healing in flexible and rigid pavements via advanced micro-capsules
  • eVTOL configuration understanding, development and design
  • Modeling and testing autonomous and shared multimodal mobility services for low-density rural areas
  • Safe operation of connected vehicles in complex and unforeseen environments
  • Safety test autonomous vehicles with augmented reality
  • Sensing infrastructure for smart mobility — wireless continuous monitoring for I-ACT

The eight projects began February 2021 and will wrap up early 2022.

The projects constitute the first year of the program’s three-year funding for seed research projects. Two more cycles are anticipated in the next two years.

Illinois Center for Transportation is also leading an IDOT-sponsored work on Mobility 4.0 that aims to develop a roadmap for the future of mobility in Illinois.

Angeli Jayme, UIUC CEE postdoctoral research associate, co-leads the project with Al-Qadi as well as Northwestern University’s Breton Johnson and Hani Mahmassani and Illinois Autonomous Vehicles Association’s Jerry Quandt.

As the future autonomous vehicle track gets closer to becoming a reality, the STII team will continue to engage potential private and public collaborators and partners for I-ACT.

These relationships will strengthen public-private-academic partnerships and help ensure the success of I-ACT for the state of Illinois and beyond.