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Driverless car demo a highlight of transportation conference in Buffalo

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (left) and Ragunathan "Raj" Rajkumar, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, take a ride on the North Campus in the driverless Cadillac SUV developed by CMU. Photos: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By CORY NEALON

Published June 20, 2017

“UB’s research will help answer questions that relate to the safety, efficiency and sustainability of traffic systems where, increasingly, humans allow machines to do the work.”
Adel Sadek, director
UB’s Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics andTransportation Informatics Tier 1 University Transportation Center

More than 100 transportation leaders from across the United States are meeting in Buffalo this week to discuss everything from driverless cars to bike share programs and how big data can improve traffic-clogged roads.

The event, being held June 19-21 in downtown Buffalo, is the annual summer meeting of the Council of the University Transportation Centers, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents more than 90 universities and colleges nationwide, including UB.

In addition to academia, government and industry officials, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul took part in the conference, which is organized by UB’s Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics (ISTL), and the UB-headquartered Transportation Informatics Tier 1 University Transportation Center.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul gets into the driverless car.

Hochul joined local officials on Tuesday for road testing on the UB North Campus of an autonomous Cadillac SUV developed by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

The conference comes on the heels of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement last month that New York is opening its roads to autonomous vehicle testing. The move marks another step forward in advancing New York as a hub for innovation, as well as taking a careful, yet balanced approach to allowing driverless cars on roads and improving safety, Cuomo said.

“We thank Gov. Cuomo for his leadership in pushing these vital changes in New York State law that will allow the autonomous vehicle industry to grow in New York State. The University at Buffalo is positioned well to advance this new technology through working with private and public partners to develop both virtual and real-world testing platforms, which in turn will help make our university the leading autonomous vehicle testing center in the country,” President Satish K. Tripathi said.

Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, noted that UB recently was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to create a research facility dedicated to driverless and connected vehicle research. “With Gov. Cuomo’s support of these innovations, we will make traffic systems smarter, safer and more sustainable in New York State and beyond,” she said.

The display screen inside the SUV indicates the car is in "auto" mode.

The $1.2 million NSF grant, which UB received last December, will allow the university to build a unique testing platform that syncs UB’s driving, traffic and wireless networking simulators to connected and driverless cars, as well as sensors and other instruments to be installed on roads on the North Campus.

“Traditionally, researchers have used low-fidelity, stand-alone computer simulators and road-testing facilities with limited flexibility,” said Chunming Qiao, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and principal investigator of the project, which includes CMU, Cisco Systems and Southwest Research Institute. “At UB, we are bridging that gap by creating an integrated, virtual-reality-based platform that would benefit academia, information technology companies, automakers and other stakeholders.”

Ragunathan "Raj" Rajkumar of Carnegie Mellon University points out the sensor that recognizes traffic conditions, such as stop signs and speed limits.

This is the latest action taken by UB to promote new transportation options. Earlier this year, the school received funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to purchase and test an Olli bus. Olli is a self-driving, electric vehicle that can accommodate up to 12 passengers and uses sensors, including radar and cameras, to monitor the driving environment. UB plans to test the bus later this year.

John B. Rhodes, president and CEO of NYSERDA, called UB a leader in advancing innovative technologies. “The Olli bus will help New York meet Gov. Cuomo’s energy goals and is an example of how New York is leading the nation in advancing electric vehicles and reducing emissions in the transportation sector,” Rhodes said.

The driverless car takes a tour of the North Campus, accompanied by UBPD.

These projects enhance UB’s facilities and expertise in transportation studies including ISTL, which is managed jointly by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Management, and the Transportation Informatics Tier 1 University Transportation Center, which focus on using big data to improve transportation systems.

“UB’s research will help answer questions that relate to the safety, efficiency and sustainability of traffic systems where, increasingly, humans allow machines to do the work,” said Adel Sadek, who directs ISTL and the Transportation Informatics Tier 1 University Transportation Center.

Animation of the driverless car demonstration

Look, Ma, no hands! The view from inside the driverless car.