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ORNL and Scientific-Atlanta Conduct Research on Avoiding Vehicle Crashes

The Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is collaborating with Scientific-Atlanta Inc. on research that could result in fewer deaths and injuries from vehicle collisions. The partnership will develop a means to study both driver and vehicle behavior, providing information that could aid in the design of crash-avoidance systems for cars and trucks.

ORNL and Scientific-Atlanta are developing a portable automotive data acquisition system for crash avoidance research (DASCAR). The goal is to apply technologies developed for defense to the reduction of human suffering and financial losses resulting from vehicle collisions.

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) funds designated for the development of the Intelligent-Vehicle Highway System (IVHS) are supporting the effort, which represents the nation's first IVHS cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA).

Scientific-Atlanta is a communications company whose task in the project is to develop and provide an automotive data processing unit, a compressed-video system, and communications equipment. ORNL will lend its expertise in human-factors research, advanced technology, and instrumentation and controls.

ORNL's principal investigator for the CRADA is Richard Carter, a psychologist in the Engineering Physics and Mathematics Division (EPMD).

Carter says the key to developing crash-avoidance systems for cars and trucks is understanding the detailed behavior of drivers and vehicles under varying road and traffic conditions.

"We are primarily interested in the changes that occur right before an accident or near-miss, such as an increase in speed," Carter explains. "These specially equipped vehicles will be used on a test track and the open road to test the effects on driver performance of various conditions ranging from the weather to traffic congestion."

Using high-speed digital data processing equipment and specially developed software, Scientific-Atlanta and ORNL will develop a prototype system consisting of four video cameras, (each the size of a thumb), sensors strewn along the car's bottom and under the hood, and an on-board computerized system to collect, record, process, compress, and transmit data from the sensors and cameras. The processed data will be transmitted to a control center by cellular telephone and microwave communications with a satellite (for cars on the open road) and by radio telemetry (for cars on a test track).

"Sensors will record all driver actions, such as braking, steering, turning on the wipers, and tuning the radio, as well as driver physiology, such as heart rate and brain waves," Carter says. "DASCAR will gather near real-time information on the car's speed, pitch, roll, yaw, lateral position within the lane, and distance from cars ahead and behind. DASCAR will also record information on characteristics of the road, changes in the weather, and traffic and sign density that could affect driving."

The heart of the DASCAR system will be Scientific-Atlanta's data processing unit, which collects data from the sensors and cameras. Scientific-Atlanta also will contribute a radio telemetry system and satellite link for two-way communications with the INMARSAT satellite. The Global Positioning System will help determine the car's location on the road and within its lane. In addition, the company will provide a compressed-video digital storage-and-retrieval system to rapidly retrieve and integrate compressed video data with other digitized information for analysis and transmission by DASCAR.

ORNL's role in the CRADA will be to incorporate hardware supplied by Scientific-Atlanta into the other components of the data acquisition system. ORNL will then install and calibrate the DASCAR in five vehicle types and will evaluate and pilot-test the data acquisition system.

Carter says ORNL also has been asked to develop software for the data processing center to make sense out of data sent from test cars. Such software will seek out meaningful data from the cars, such as a significant sequence of events occurring within one second of a car crash. It will present the data as easy-to-interpret graphics on a display screen.

"Most vehicle crashes could be prevented if the correct action is taken within a half second to a second before the collision," Carter says. "If the car can sense that it is too close to another car, it could be programmed to take over steering and braking from the driver at a certain point to avert the collision. DASCAR should demonstrate that a car's lateral position in the lane and distance from cars ahead and behind can be recorded. If so, an intelligent cruise control could be developed to respond instantly to shrinking distances between cars to avoid a potentially deadly crash."

Working with him at ORNL are Philip F. Spelt, of EPMD, and Frank Barrickman, a senior at Gannon University in Erie, Pa., who is participating in a program sponsored by DOE and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

ORNL research for the CRADA will be supported by funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency of the DOT.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the Department of Energy's multiprogram research laboratories, is managed by Martin Marietta Energy Systems, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant.