Research News

From Buffalo to Manhattan, driverless vehicles are making inroads in New York

UB researchers are driving new technologies for safer travel.

By CORY NEALON

Published January 8, 2018

“To expand on the success of the 2017 legislation and encourage more autonomous vehicle manufacturers to operate in New York, the State must continue to remove legal barriers and further promote autonomous vehicle operations in the state.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, 2018 State of the State Address

Support from political and business leaders. Check.

Diverse real-world testing environments. Check.

World-class scientists and dynamic research facilities. Check.

All are signs pointing to New York’s ascendance — with UB playing a pivotal role —as a hub for the advancement of autonomous vehicles.

As much was said Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his annual State of the State address, which spotlighted UB’s newest tool for driverless vehicle research: a self-driving electric bus the university expects to take delivery of this winter.

With funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), UB has purchased an Olli. The bus, developed by Local Motors, can accommodate up to 12 passengers and uses sensors, including radar and cameras, to monitor the driving environment.

UB researchers will evaluate the vehicle — as well other autonomous vehicles — on campus roads. The plan is to conduct comprehensive testing, especially during inclement weather, with the goal of informing decisions regarding policy, safety, reliability and other matters.

Cuomo worked with state lawmakers last year to pass legislation that opened select New York roads to autonomous vehicle testing. On Wednesday, he said will work to extend and expand the legislation, noting it already helped prompt General Motors to plan autonomous vehicle testing in Manhattan later this year.

“To expand on the success of the 2017 legislation and encourage more autonomous vehicle manufacturers to operate in New York, the State must continue to remove legal barriers and further promote autonomous vehicle operations in the state,” states a plan outlining Cuomo’s vision that the governor’s office released on Wednesday.

It continued: “While states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, Arizona and Ohio have opened their doors and lightened regulations to attract the industry, few states offer as diverse a testing environment for this technology than New York. From the urban streets of New York City to the vast rural roads of the North Country, with seasons that range from steamy summer days to the coldest snowy winters, New York offers a wide variety of conditions necessary for the rapid advancement of autonomous vehicle technology.”

The Olli bus is the latest example of UB’s leadership in transportation research. Some other examples include:

  • Engineers received a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to build a one-of-a-kind research platform for self-driving and connected cars. It combines UB’s existing driving, traffic and wireless simulators with connected and self-driving vehicles, and sensor equipment on university roads. The goal is to make self-driving and connected cars as safe and efficient as possible, thereby reducing motor vehicle accidents.
  • UB researchers are mining social media data to get a better sense of localized weathercrowded subways and other factors that affect traffic. The data they extract and organize may soon provide unparalleled real-time information about traffic problems. The research will give transportation planners better tools to alert travelers to delays and danger.
  • UB is part of an international effort to alleviate automobiles as a major source of pollution. Researchers are working with the Toyota Research Institute and other organizations to hunt for new materials for next-generation batteries and fuel-cell catalysts. The goal is to design zero-emission and carbon-neutral vehicles that do not harm air quality or lead to other environmental problems.
  • UB researchers are leading an effort to provide vision to robot bees. These tiny flying machines may one day be used to inspect bridges, search dangerous buildings and perform a host of other duties that are difficult for humans. The technology is the same used by driverless cars and it could help improve how these vehicles see and sense their surroundings.