Talebpour leading a national effort on autonomous vehicles

8/5/2021 11:45:20 AM

Alireza Talebpour
Alireza Talebpour

By Emily Jankauski, Illinois Center for Transportation

Self-driving vehicles have endless opportunities to improve safety, equality and sustainability. But how are we going to react when encountering them?

That’s a question Alireza Talebpour is hoping to answer in his latest research effort providing third-generation simulation data, which is a further exploration of the impacts of automated driving systems on human behavior. The Illinois Center for Transportation researcher and assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering was awarded $430,000 by the Federal Highway Administration for the effort.

Here he’s teaming up with Hani Mahmassani, the William A. Patterson Distinguished Chair at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and NUTC director, and Samer Hamdar, a George Washington University School of Engineering & Applied Science associate professor, in a two-year effort collecting data from autonomous vehicles to better understand human behavior.

“We want to know if you put an autonomous car on a highway or a street how that (could) change the way people behave,” Talebpour said. “Would that change people’s driving behavior or walking behavior or biking behavior?”

To do so, Talebpour and crew are collecting data from both the ground and the sky.

Provided<br /><br />An unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone, uses high-resolution cameras to capture long stretches of roadway. While Talebpour&rsquo;s study uses helicopters to see how autonomous vehicles impact human behavior, UAVs will likely be used in the future as they provide a much lower operating cost.
Provided

An unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone, uses high-resolution cameras to capture long stretches of roadway. While Talebpour’s study uses helicopters to see how autonomous vehicles impact human behavior, UAVs will likely be used in the future as they provide a much lower operating cost.

“Helicopters are going to fly over cars and collect data from them and at the same time on the ground we’ll have our own vehicles circling the segments,” he said. “We want to see how (autonomous vehicles) will impact human behavior.”

The effort will take place in Chicago and Washington, D.C. — near the George Washington University campus.

Two types of data will be collected — one with the autonomous vehicles’ sensors on full display and the other hiding them.

“We did (a) preliminary study on this, and that study showed that people actually feel more comfortable following an autonomous car compared to following a human driver,” Talebpour said.

Why? Well, Talebpour shared that’s likely due to the smooth behavior of autonomous vehicles versus the jerky movements of human drivers’ vehicles.

Pedestrians cross an intersection as a connected and autonomous vehicle senses the pedestrians and stops for them to pass. Talebpour believes such transit will not only improve the lives of millions, but it will also be a much safer form of travel in the future.
Pedestrians cross an intersection as a connected and autonomous vehicle senses the pedestrians and stops for them to pass. Talebpour believes such transit will not only improve the lives of millions, but it will also be a much safer form of travel in the future.

“There’s some evidence that these cars can actually improve safety on the road — not just for the people in them — because they’re designed to be safe,” Talebpour said. “They are designed to not have a crash.”

“We want to collect more data to make sure we’re actually right about it,” he added.

Talebpour anticipates the project’s achievement will be the “most comprehensive” data set from autonomous cars available to public.

The beneficiaries of the team’s efforts?

“The entire transportation industry,” Talebpour said.

“Not just universities but also practitioners,” he added. “Just people (who) are planning their cities for autonomous cars. All of those people can look at the data and see something that might be useful for them.”

This effort began earlier in January, and project completion is anticipated by January 2023.

Looking forward

Talebpour’s research ties in nicely with ICT’s effort to build the Illinois Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Track, a high speed, multimodal autonomous and connected vehicle track.

“With I-ACT, the U of I is looking (at) putting itself as a leader in this area,” Talebpour said. “We have all of the resources, we have all of the expertise with (The Grainger) College of Engineering and everyone else.”

“Projects like these are just hopefully a starting point (for my work at Illinois),” he added. “I’m very hopeful that we’ll have a lot more impactful projects in the future.”

 

Illinois Autonomous and Connected Track (I-ACT)

Take a tour of I-ACT, a planned state-of-the-art research-testing arena for the development, testing and commercialization of smart, autonomous and multimodal transportation.