University of Illinois’ $4M investment keeps autonomous vehicles ‘on track’

11/4/2019 12:24:50 PM

The Investment for Growth initiative will provide $24 million across 18 UIUC projects to expand educational and research excellence. Of the 18 projects is ICT’s proposed high-speed Illinois Autonomous and Connected Track.

By Emily Jankauski

The university approved funding 18 projects totaling $24 million to enhance innovative and interdisciplinary efforts.

The high-speed autonomous and connected freight and multimodal mobility track will set up shop on approximately 430 acres at the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois. Features of the track will include a high-speed loop for autonomous and connected freight and vehicle courses.

The track will also feature climate control capabilities to test various weather scenarios. Additional innovative components of the track include autonomous agriculture machines, drones, freight platooning and urban setting testing.

The effort has not only garnered interdisciplinary support within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois), but also the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, Illinois Department of Transportation (ICT), Illinois Tollway, the City of Chicago, local governments in Rantoul and Champaign County, and leading industry stakeholders interested in making I-ACT the testbed of their companies’ latest creations.

Imad Al-Qadi
Imad Al-Qadi
“I’m thrilled with the University of Illinois’ support,” said Imad Al-Qadi, ICT director and Illinois Bliss Professor of Engineering. “With this commitment, ICT is on track to lead Illinois in becoming an unrivaled leader in autonomous vehicle research and testing.”

Such technology also offers mobility as a literal driver to improving community members’ quality of life with possible job growth, independence for the elderly and individuals with disabilities, fuel savings for the trucking industry and many more.

“Vulnerable communities often feel disconnected given their lack of mobility options,” Al-Qadi said. “Their employment options, opportunities for safe travel, connectivity and even economic prosperity rely on improved transportation, and we are committed to using cutting-edge technology to develop ideal mobility strategies to solve these issues.”

The track is also set to empower the university’s engineering students with the creation of five new master’s of engineering smart mobility courses to enhance the workforce in this field.

But that’s just a fraction of who Al-Qadi hopes this project will impact.

“Our reach will stretch well outside the halls of The Grainger College of Engineering program,” Al-Qadi said. “We hope to offer a multidisciplinary approach, recruiting students from various fields of thought to come and learn this top-notch technology. This will be a collaboration between university partners, industry and social sciences. This will allow rapid implementation of such technologies in the state and communities, and it will allow us to discover ways to improve the technology roll-out and develop proper protocols and guidelines of autonomous and connected mobility.”

Construction for the $65 million project is in the planning phase and is expected to reach completion three years after approving the design contract.

“The future of transportation has the opportunity to enhance our communities’ independence and ultimately improve their quality of life,” Al-Qadi said. “Thanks to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s support, we are that much closer to realizing that future.”

“And in doing so,” he added, “It positions the state of Illinois’ top engineering universities’ students as pioneers in the field of autonomous and connected mobility research.”