Federal and state officials received hands-on experience with “hands-off” automated and connected driving as they traveled a 10-mile stretch of an interstate highway in Northern Virginia in cars sporting the latest automated- and connected-vehicle technology.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, U.S. Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology Greg Winfree, Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands, and Virginia Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson were among officials who boarded sedans outfitted by researchers with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

The closed testing did not affect travel and occurred during the regular midday reversal of the Interstate 395 express lanes. The automated vehicle demonstrated lane-changing and braking responses to staged scenarios, including construction workers in the roadway, sudden traffic slowdowns, and passing emergency vehicles.

The connected vehicle, which was equipped with both dedicated short-range communications known as DSRC and cellular technology, provided advanced alerts to drivers in similar scenarios using vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.

‎"The growing use of automated and connected technologies is no longer a matter of if, but when,” Warner said. “It is exciting that Virginia is positioned to be a leader in the development of this game-changing technology and the new jobs and investment that will result."


Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Kilpatrick and Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Richard Holcomb were also among the participants.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and Transurban, which operates the express lanes, conducted the demonstration.

“The phrase ‘invent the future’ really hits home when you’re riding down I-395 in one of these cars and you realize the technology driving your vehicle came from a Virginia Tech lab not very long ago,” Sands said. “This demonstration also illustrates the value of connecting our research campus in Blacksburg to the urban environment of the National Capital Region as we develop solutions for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.”

Continental, a global automotive supplier and a leading technology corporation, demonstrated several of its advanced safety systems on the interstate.

“Virginia has a wealth of expertise and sophisticated, real-world environments where car companies and suppliers of automated vehicles can test their innovations,” Jackson said. “As part of the new Virginia economy, the Commonwealth has positioned itself to be a leader in research, development, and infrastructure for exciting automated and unmanned technologies and new commercial applications.”

Officials had the opportunity to see how connected- and automated-vehicle concepts can improve safety, increase operational efficiency, reduce congestion, and enhance the commuter driving experience.

“Next-generation vehicular technology certainly has the potential to play a vast role within the transportation community — from increasing overall safety to reducing congestion and negative environmental impacts,” said Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Director Tom Dingus. “With the Virginia Connected and Automated Corridors initiatives, we are actively working to support both the Commonwealth and the nation in efforts to be a front-runner in this initiative, increasing job opportunities, providing information to policymakers at all levels, and facilitating the work of automobile manufacturers and suppliers.”

The demonstration was part of the Virginia Connected Corridors and the Virginia Automated Corridors initiatives, which represent partnerships between the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, Transurban, and HERE (a high-definition mapping business), respectively.

These initiatives allow connected- and automated-vehicle developers to test their technologies along two test-track environments — the Virginia Smart Road at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, and the Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Virginia — on operational roadways in Northern Virginia that compose some of the most congested corridors in the United States, and throughout Virginia with its diverse terrain, road types, and weather conditions.

Federal and state government officials, automobile manufacturers, suppliers, and researchers expect automated and connected vehicles in the coming years to significantly reduce congestion, improve mobility, enhance sustainability, and increase driver safety.

‎"The growing use of automated and connected technologies is no longer a matter of if, but when,” Warner said. “It is exciting that Virginia is positioned to be a leader in the development of this game-changing technology and the new jobs and investment that will result."

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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