Virginia Tech adds new smart road test tracks

Test tracks designed for urban and rural environments

By Jessica Jewell - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Virginia Tech is expanding its smart road testing facilities.

Researchers built the first tracks for advanced-vehicle technology in 2000 and unveiled some new additions Tuesday.

Before self-driving cars begin traveling on every road, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute is trying to make sure they're as safe as possible.

"We can look at interactions between, say, the human driver and their automated vehicle as they transfer control both between human and back to automation, as well as, for example, unexpected events when, say, a pedestrian suddenly steps out, or we can look at whether or not the automated systems are able to handle all sorts of different potential scenarios, but in a closed, safe, controlled facility," VTTI Center for Advanced Automotive Research director Zac Doerzaph said.

In the past, researchers could only study these vehicles on an interstate test track. But Tuesday, they unveiled the surface street expansion that’s equipped with buildings, roundabouts, intersections and even pedestrians

"This represents more urban environment, where we can have reconfigurable infrastructure to look at things like cities and other low speeding environments," Doerzaph said.

There's also a first-of-its-kind rural roadway in the works to test the capabilities of self-driving cars in all types of environments.

"We can anticipate the challenges and we can address those before they are deployed," Doerzaph said.

The rural roadway expansion is expected to open next fall.

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