The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has named Myra Blanco as director of its new center dedicated to the research of automated technology in vehicles, including cars and trucks. 

This brings the number of research centers operated under the transportation institute to 13.

As director for the Center for Automated Vehicle Systems, Blanco will oversee research into all aspects related to the automation life cycle in the transportation field, focusing on in-development technologies and interfaces that motorists will use as they operate cars and trucks that have varying levels of automated driving technology, from assistance tools to full autonomy where the vehicle takes over all driving duties.

The new center will offer pragmatic research based on scientific approaches that emphasize safety, security, reliability, and user acceptance, with a focus on the safety benefits of automation across all levels of the transportation industry. 

It will feature two subgroups, one focusing on policy, reliability, and security of autonomous and automated technologies, with Blanco as interim group leader, and the second group focusing on user experience, to be led by Greg Fitch, a research scientist with the institute.

“I had the pleasure of hiring Myra Blanco into [the institute] in the late 1990s and I have watched her grow to become a key contributor to our organization,” said Jon Hankey, senior associate director for research and development at the institute. “Myra, with her trademark dedication and hard work, has positioned her center to have a huge impact on automated vehicles and systems research.”

“As a center director, she will continue to lead and advance our efforts into automated vehicles and systems research, one of the greatest opportunities to explore in the transportation realm,” said Tom Dingus, institute director and an endowed professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. “Myra’s dedication to driver safety and her professional growth mirror that of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and she embodies our achievements in fostering the next generation of transportation researchers.”

Blanco previously was leader of the institute’s Safety and Human Factors Engineering group, part of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety

Her research has focused on evaluation of in-vehicle devices, distraction, driver behavior, training, work/rest cycles, fatigue, and active safety systems for light and heavy vehicles. She has directed research efforts in naturalistic, on-road, test track, and simulator test environments. She has authored more than 60 scientific articles, technical reports, and book chapters.

Her research sponsors have included the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research, Motor Coach Industries, General Motors, and Ford Motor Company. Safety partners she has collaborated with include Google, Mercedes Benz, and Volvo. 

Among the upcoming conferences she will either present at or help lead is the Fourth International Symposium on Naturalistic Driving Research, to be held at the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center in August 2014. Her numerous awards include the Society of Automotive Engineers’ J. Cordell Breed Award for Women Leaders, presented in 2013.

Blanco earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, and her master’s degree and doctoral degree are from Virginia Tech’s Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering

She officially joined the transportation institute as a senior research associate in 2000.

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