How automotive testing in Greenville could impact tomorrow’s roadways

Here are three ways ITIC is helping shape the future of vehicles and roadways.

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Clemson University, along with companies like Michelin and Proterra, are using ITIC to conduct research and test products. Photo provided by Clemson University

On a two-mile straightaway test track, you may see police officers practicing high-speed maneuvers; research being conducted on Proterra buses; or major automotive companies like Michelin and Toyota doing performance testing.

While each company’s work at the International Transportation Innovation Center (ITIC) in Greenville serves an important purpose, promising bigger picture results could include alleviating traffic congestion and changing how city streets are protected and public transportation is carried out.

ITIC’s mission is providing a safe, collaborative environment for vehicle testing and validation. Located at S.C. Technology & Aviation Center (SCTAC) – minutes from CU-ICAR, Michelin North America and BMW North American Manufacturing – ITIC is in the center of the area’s growing automotive cluster.

Here are three ways ITIC is helping shape the future of vehicles and roadways:

The future of policing

When Ford was marketing the Interceptor sedan during its first model year, the Greenville Police Department used the ITIC site to test the automobile’s capabilities. Since then, the department has used the test track for driver training scenarios including day-to-day precision driving techniques and high-speed handling.

“While a suspect’s behavior is beyond our control, officers are taught techniques and responses that can help minimize the danger to the public like stopping cross traffic at intersections ahead of a pursuit to reduce the likelihood of a collision,” said Sgt. Nate Overholt, the department’s lead driving instructor.

For city law enforcement, the work at ITIC is critical because the future is now.

The controlled, scenario-based training helps officers because “it allows them to become more familiar with their patrol vehicle’s limitations and how they’ll respond to emergency situations,” Overholt said.

The future of public transit

Research and development are at the core of the Proterra’s business model. Having a track facility so close to the Greenville-based East Coast manufacturing and operations hub has provided ample opportunity for hands-on work, said Lyndon Schneider, director of vehicle development and integration.

Proterra does computer-aided engineering and structural analysis, but still relies on physical tests to confirm what the computer models show and give a final validation of the product, Schneider said.

Battery-electric buses are the cornerstone of mobile sustainability, Schneider said, and in fact, he predicts that “transportation will likely be one of the first segments in the U.S. to make a complete transition to zero-emission vehicles.”

The future of autonomous vehicles

Research by led by Clemson professor Ardalan Vahidi shows that connected and automated vehicles offer unprecedented opportunities for energy-efficient driving with easier access to information, increased processing power and precision control.

The project research at ITIC’s testbed to design speed and lane selection algorithms that allow vehicles to anticipate rather than react, said Ali Reza Fayazi, PhD and Clemson Post-Doctoral Fellow.

The algorithms, programmed in the autonomous vehicle’s embedded computer, command the gas and brake pedals and control the steering wheel, Fayazi said.

Clemson researchers use computer simulations to emulate to determine the energy efficiency of thousands of human-driven and automated vehicles driving in mixed traffic streams. They also do live experiments with two autonomous vehicles on the test track to create realistic interactions.

The expected goal is to improve safety by reducing human error and to improve travel times, fuel consumption and emissions.

If an auto manufacturer picks up the technology, Fayazi said it could be added into vehicles’ existing computer systems.

As for the future:

“When the technology is mature, there won’t be a steering wheel or pedals in the car,” he said. “For now, like cruise control or Tesla’s AutoPilot, drivers could switch between human and autonomous driving.”

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