VTTI partnered with the Commonwealth of Virginia to develop the test track. Source: VTTIVTTI partnered with the Commonwealth of Virginia to develop the test track. Source: VTTI

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the Virginia Department of Transportation are expanding a facility known as the Virginia Smart Road.

Four primary expansions are intended to speed up advanced-vehicle testing and offer an opportunity to explore how automated and autonomous vehicles will function on virtually all roadways found in the U.S., including edge-and-corner environments.

Virginia Tech says that automated vehicles are often tested in highway settings, where the lane markings are clear and surrounding obstructions are few. However, to operate across a variety of road environments, advanced vehicles will need to be able to handle situations in urban, residential and rural areas.

The surface street area can accommodate both urban and residential driving scenarios in a controlled testbed facility. The road includes a number of portable features, including reconfigurable buildings; roadside elements, such as sidewalks, a bus stop, fire hydrants, light poles, bike lanes and alleyways; roundabout and stop-controlled intersections; and removable lane markings. All of these “props” can be moved and reinstalled in a matter of hours, enabling researchers to recreate a variety of settings for testing, such as neighborhoods and city intersections.

The surface street also enables researchers to study such growing transportation issues as pedestrian risk in urban environments.

The live roadway connector links the Smart Road directly to U.S. Route 460-Business. The connector facilitates studies in which drivers can transition between a live traffic environment and the closed Smart Road facility. This feature will enable researchers to analyze how drivers may behave or adjust after driving under automated mode for long periods of time. The connector also increases the length of the highway section of the Smart Road to 2.5 miles.

Once opened in 2018, the Rural Roadway Expansion will be one of the first research beds of its kind capable of testing advanced vehicles in a controlled rural setting. The rural track will feature hilly and winding roads, short sight distances, small bridges and narrow sections, off-road sections, embankments, soft grass shoulders, natural foliage overhanging the road and rural intersections.

Built to 1965 standards, the road will allow users to test automated and autonomous vehicles in the kind of rural environments that commonly exist in the United States.

Slated to open in 2018, an interdisciplinary advanced learning facility will house a new internship program focused on accelerating hands-on practical skill development for Virginia Tech students. Interns will have the opportunity to collaborate with researchers from the Virginia Department of Transportation, the university and the transportation institute, as well as leading automotive industry partners on groundbreaking transportation research and development projects.