Smart Road extension to open in 2020 to test self driving cars on rural roads at Virginia Tech

Local News

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute is working on a Smart Road to test self-driving cars on a rural road. 

“The majority of roads in the U.S. are rural roadways, most of us live in rural areas,” said Andy Schaudt.

Andy Schaudt is the automated vehicle systems project director.

“Eventually, if most of the roads are rural and a lot of us live in these rural areas, automated vehicles and self-driving cars are really going to have to be in those areas at some point, for everyone to gain the value from them.”

At the Virginia Tech Transportation Insitute Smart Road self-driving cars have been tested for almost two decades.

“We have an opportunity to save a lot of lives for the first time because the technology is finally rising up to where we can deploy in the best way.”

With two-thirds of all roads in the nation being rural, the institute’s leaders felt like it makes sense to build their newest project: a rural smart road.

“Rural roads are really the last frontier we see at this point of testing these automated vehicles.”

They bought a farm with 120 acres of land for the new road. Construction to build the long winding road that will look like your typical backcountry road is in the works. 

“Our goal is to keep it almost the same. We want to put some roadway through this environment, but we want to keep all the trees, the hills, the curves, the small streams that are coming through here,  the elevation changes up into the mountainside.”

So far, they’ve built a paved access road down to the rural area and have started mapping out roads with these flags.

“We want to keep it as rural as we can.”

More than 37-thousand people die in road crashes each year in the United States – with millions more hurt or disabled in crashes, according to the Association for Safe International Road Travel.

Taking away that hurt by saving lives is what drives Virginia Tech Transportation Institute employees. 

“A lot of times humans are very good at driving, except in situations where they are not,” said Andy Schaudt.

“When you look at the causes of those, over 90-percent of them we can contribute to humans or some kind of human error,” said Schaudt. 

A human error like taking our eyes off the road to text, or eat, or anything else that might distract you. 

“We do that at the wrong time and that’s when crashes happen and that’s when fatalities happen,” said Schaudt. 

Ultimately, they hope the rural smart road helps the cars of the future learn to be smarter and safer. 

“Safety is the priority for us. If we can start to remove the human error that’s contributing to these crashes then that’s where we want to go with it.” 

The road should be finished by the end of the year. 

Testing on the road will start in the year 2020. 

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