The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has received an inaugural Convergence award from the National Science Foundation to support research on autonomous trucks and their future workforce implications. The institute’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety will head the research, with Jeffrey Hickman, research scientist, leading the project as principal investigator. Richard Hanowski, center director, is serving as co-principal investigator.

“We are honored to receive support from the National Science Foundation. Through this cross-collaborative research effort between scientists and constituents, we look forward to identifying challenges, research needs, and potential solutions regarding the development and economic impact of autonomous trucks,” said Hickman.

The foundation grant will facilitate a workshop for research and industry experts to evaluate the impacts of autonomous truck deployment on the economy and workforce. The workshop will focus on a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, including computer science, transportation and civil engineering, autonomy, economics, education, law, psychology, and sociology. The transportation institute is among the National Science Foundation’s first set of recipients for the Convergence awards, which support workshops, summer institutes, and other research endeavors that integrate the expertise of multiple disciplines to advance scientific discovery and innovation.

“The transportation system is expected to undergo major changes with the introduction of automated vehicles. Although we anticipate automation will greatly reduce the number of driving fatalities and crashes per year, it has the potential to adversely disrupt the existing workforce,” Hickman explained. “One of our primary goals of this research is to explore the opportunities of autonomous vehicle technologies for the trucking workforce while also addressing concerns and mitigating potential negative consequences.”

Once the research is complete, a report will be released to inform research and education opportunities for academia and public and private-sector stakeholders.

The Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the transportation institute focuses on the research, development, and evaluation of heavy-vehicle systems. Within the center, Hickman leads the Behavioral Analysis and Applications group, which studies behavioral safety and health issues affecting heavy-truck and bus operations. The group also evaluates industrial and occupational safety, intelligent transportation systems, the support and development of federal and state regulations, safety culture, and training and education programs.

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