Cheryl Cobb, 334-844-2220

--Peaks of Excellence--


AUBURN -- He's been driving for eight hours. It's dark, it's raining and he's tired, but he's almost home. As he drifts off to sleep, an autopilot system silently switches on, making sure the 18-wheeler stays in its lane, while adjusting vehicle speed to avoid collisions.

A farfetched concept? Not according to David Bevly, a member of the mechanical engineering faculty in Auburn University's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

"These won't happen tomorrow, but the day could come when drivers can lean back and relax while their vehicle drives them to work," Bevly says. "This isn't science fiction anymore.

"A lot of commercial vehicles already have GPS systems that allow fleet owners to track the locations of their vehicles. Driver-assist would simply be an extension of this system that would greatly improve highway safety."

Bevly says he anticipates that "auto-assist" systems will be one of many commercial vehicle improvements to come out of AU's Transportation Peak research initiative.

Transportation represents one of seven focused research "Peaks of Excellence" within AU where faculty expertise exists to foster breakthrough technologies. The Ginn College of Engineering also hosts information technology, and detection and food safety peaks.

Work being conducted under the Transportation Peak represents one of the first efforts in the nation to view the U.S. highway system as one built of integrated components.

This includes everything from the roads and bridges to the vehicles and drivers and to the controls and systems that make them work.

"Until recently researchers have simply looked at the roads we drive on, or at the vehicles themselves, without thinking about how they interact with each other and with the driver," says Bevly. "At Auburn, we believe that an understanding of the way these components interact will be the key to the success of future transportation systems."

Commercial transportation will be an important component of the peak.

"Trucks dictate current road construction standards and also account for most road wear," Bevly says. "In addition, because the market for automobiles is so large, vehicle research has been concentrated in this industry segment. We have a lot to learn about trucks and the way they behave."

A graduate of Texas A&M University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, with a strong background in robotics and GPS, Bevly plans to use data he collects at Auburn's 1.7 mile asphalt test track to identify ways to improve truck performance, to make driving safer and easier and to minimize their impact on the environment.

"The test track presents an unprecedented opportunity to learn what¹s happening to semi's and to their drivers as they move around the 1.7-mile oval track 16 hours a day, week after week," Bevly says of the facility, which is operated in conjunction with the National Center for Asphalt Technology.

Under research proposed by Bevly, real-time GPS measurements will provide three-dimensional tracking of trucks. Inertial measurements such as yaw, pitch, roll and acceleration, and data on tire wear and slippage will help researchers understand how vehicles perform under changing road and environmental conditions. This information will drive improvements in areas such as braking systems, tire design, cruise controls and safety systems that may some day make rollovers and catastrophic tire failure things of the past.

Bevly says measurements will also allow researchers to test and improve existing computer models that seek to predict how vehicles behave under different circumstances. The resulting "road-tested" models and computer simulation tools will provide the kinds of information necessary to drive future technological advances in highway system design.

# # #


CONTACT: Jim Killian, 334/844-2509.