Minnesota Intelligent Vehicle Initiative moves ahead

William Gardner
Planning Director, Advanced Transportation Systems
Minnesota Department of Transportation

Blowing snow...fog...rain...darkness-all of these conditions impair driver visibility and can make driving dangerous. Weather is a contributing factor in one out of every five accidents on state roads in Minnesota. New technology is helping to warn drivers more quickly of dangerous road and weather conditions. But is there technology that actually addresses the driver visibility problem? Minnesota's Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI), under the Minnesota Department of Transportation's (Mn/DOT) Minnesota Guidestar Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program, is preparing to operationally test a system that does exactly that.

Drivers responsible for public safety (ambulances, police squads, snowplows, etc.) must be able to operate under poor visibility and adverse weather conditions. Responding to accidents, rescuing stranded travelers, and keeping the roads open are all mission-critical endeavors. By refining and combining several different technologies, Minnesota Guidestar partners are developing a driver-assistive system that will help these vehicles stay in their lanes and avoid crashes. The implications for safety in terms of reducing personal injury and vehicle and property damage are significant. Mn/DOT's 800 snowplows are annually involved in approximately 140 accidents, cause $1.8 million in property damage, and incur $400,000 in damage to the snowplow vehicles themselves. A driver-assistive system has the potential for significantly reducing these numbers.

In November 1999 the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater announced award of a $3.9 million grant to Mn/DOT to conduct a Specialty Vehicle Field Operation Test, one of four such Intelligent Vehicle Initiative grants awarded (Mn/DOT was the only state-led DOT award; the others were truck manufacturers). Combined with partner contributions for this three-year project, the total budget is $6.5 million.

Mn/DOT's technology partners include the University of Minnesota, 3M, and Altra Technologies. The University of Minnesota has pioneered lateral and longitudinal vehicle guidance and collision avoidance technology and is serving as systems integrator for the project. Public sector partners include the Minnesota State Patrol, McLeod County, and City of Hutchinson/Hutchinson Ambulance. The U.S. DOT's independent evaluator for the project is Battelle. URS is providing project management services.

The field operational test will take place on fifty miles of Trunk Highway 7 between Hutchinson and Minnetonka, as well as some adjacent county roads. Highway 7 is typical of many rural, mostly two-lane roads in Minnesota, and experiences relatively heavy truck and commuter traffic along with blowing and drifting snow. Drivers in three Mn/DOT snowplows, one McLeod County snowplow, a State Patrol squad, and a Hutchinson ambulance will test the system.

The system will consist of several components:

Magnetic Lateral Warning and Guidance System-Developed by 3M, this system uses magnetic pavement marking tape that can take the place of regular lane striping. The tape can be either grooved in the existing pavement and secured with an adhesive or underlayed during construction. A magnetic sensor on the vehicle detects the tape when within one meter proximity and indicates to the driver the vehicle's position within the lane.

Collision Warning System-This system uses radar on the vehicle to detect and inform the driver of approaching obstacles. Radar detectors are mounted on the front, sides and rear of the vehicle. On snowplows, the rear radar activates high intensity strobe lights mounted on the rear of the vehicle to alert other drivers they are too close to the snowplow (which may be hidden by a snow cloud created by the plow).

Vehicle Guidance and Driver Interface-Developed by the University of Minnesota, this system uses a windshield Heads Up Display (HUD), Differential GPS, and digital mapping/geospatial database of the corridor to project an image of lane boundaries and fixed roadside features (guardrails, signposts, etc.) allowing the driver to "see" the roadway. This display also incorporates the outputs of the magnetic tape system and crash warning system; graphical icons in the display depict position of the vehicle in the lane and any approaching objects.

Other Driver Warning Devices-Other visual, audible, and tactile warnings including a vibrating steering wheel and seat indicate departure from the lane in either direction.

The University of Minnesota's ITS Institute, a program of the University's Center for Transportation Studies, is coordinating the efforts of several departments including the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Human Factors Research Laboratory. Key technical objectives include integration of the various subsystems and customization of the system for each vehicle type (snowplow, ambulance, patrol squad).

All of the technologies to be employed have been under development for several years and currently are in testing in snowplows on Trunk Highway 19 and Trunk 101. The results and system refinements achieved in these other projects directly feed into the Trunk Highway 7 project. A key aspect of all projects is to design these systems such that they are useful and not burdensome to drivers. Drivers will be extensively involved through outreach sessions, surveys, logs, simulation studies, and the field testing. The University has conducted human factors evaluations of various design solutions in both the lab and field to determine the optimal design.

A prime objective is to produce a system that can be commercially deployed at the conclusion of the project. The technology firms are making substantial contributions to the project in the form of equipment and professional services; they see the project as one means for refining and introducing their products into the marketplace. Special attention will be paid to examining the market demand for this type system and any barriers to implementation. An economist from the University will evaluate the costs and benefits of implementing the system on a widespread basis. The system could be deployed on a variety of specialty vehicle fleets, but also eventually on light (passenger) vehicles as well.

Thus far the requirements of the system have been defined, the design finalized, and necessary field infrastructure installed (DGPS signal broadcast, pavement tape, etc.). During summer/fall 2001 the systems are being built and installed on the vehicles, and testing will begin in October 2001. The operational test and evaluation will conclude at the end of 2002. There is significant national, and even international, interest in Minnesota's Intelligent Vehicle Initiative. Mn/DOT and its partners will continue to communicate with the snow and ice control community about project progress, including our plans for permanent deployment of these systems.

For more information, contact William Gardner at (651) 282-2115 or at william.gardner@dot.state.mn.us.