by Robert Sanders
Berkeley will join General Motors and industry giants in a $200 million consortium to create automated highways for the 21st century.
The initiative will involve at least 40 partners from the defense, aerospace, and automotive industries, as well as transportation agencies and the highway design industry.
Prominent among them will be California Partners in Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH), a program administered by Berkeley and part of the Institute of Transportation Studies. PATH has carried out numerous studies that demonstrate the feasibility of automated highways and vehicles.
Of the $200 million, PATH will get between $25 and $30 million.
The consortium includes Caltrans, GM, Bechtel, Delco Electronics, Hughes Aircraft, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Martin Marietta, and Carnegie Mellon University.
"We've been working on ideas for advanced transit for the past eight years, but this new partnership with GM and the others will provide the infrastructure we need to build and test major components of a prototype system, and to design the full system," says PATH director Pravin Varaiya, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences. "We now will have the vehicles, the electronics, and communications equipment that we need to prove that the concept works."
The program's goal is to improve significantly the safety and efficiency of the nation's surface transportation system, with the help of newly available technologies. By 1997 the consortium must demonstrate a prototype automated highway, and by 2001 provide specifications for a full system.
The Department of Transportation, through the Federal Highway Administration and the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office, will provide 80 percent of the funding for the project, with the remainder coming from members of the consortium. Other sponsors are the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.
Varaiya is optimistic that by 1997 the consortium will be able to demonstrate the feasibility of automated vehicles with sensors to detect relative distance and speed--perhaps using radar, sonar, or light--and computers to control steering.
In essence, this is intelligent cruise control. Also, such cars would have devices that allow communication with other cars and the road.
Automated highways could be integrated into normal freeways and could consist of dedicated lanes in which the driver would turn over vehicle control to an on-board computer communicating with a distant traffic-control computer.
All of these options have been investigated by PATH over the past eight years in a program funded in part by Caltrans. PATH engineers have fitted vehicles donated by GM, Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota with prototypes of devices like these and run them on a test track at Berkeley's Richmond Field Station. In addition, PATH has used a segment of Interstate 15 in San Diego as a testbed for cars fitted with automatic distance and speed controls.
The PATH program incorporates research at five UC campuses and several other universities.
Other researchers involved in the project include Karl Hedrick, professor of mechanical engineering, and Steven Shladover, engineer and technical director of PATH.