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Adapting Road Infrastructure for Autonomous Vehicles


Project Description

Autonomous vehicles are emerging as a solution to human driver limitations, such as imprecise control of speed and road position. They also provide opportunities for more efficient use of road space reducing congestion. This new vehicle technology however, poses new and different challenges to road design and management, in terms of travel demand forecast and reducing traffic accidents. At present, most work is focused on changes to the vehicles, for example, manufacturers are mainly focusing on making future cars for existing roads, and relatively little work has been done on how the roads should adapt to new vehicles.

The shared-riding concept, as part of the benefits of having autonomous vehicles, will change the way we predict traffic volume, but will we need more lanes when overtaking may become unnecessary? The UK Highway Code has recently been updated for more considerations of cyclists. Likewise, many fundamental principles of highway design developed in the 20th century are based on human factors, such as brake reaction time, which need to be revisited. Signal control and high friction pavement are commonly used at junctions, for safety and capacity enhancement, but what demand for these infrastructures will be when autonomous vehicles might interlace efficiently at these critical locations? Will we opt for more ‘super intersections’ in the future? Speed limits can potentially increase to reflect higher safety standards of future cars, but the environmental (e.g. noise, fuel consumption) implications need to be considered. Being almost a permanent asset, the road’s whole life maintenance needs must be evaluated, as emission-based taxes (e.g. fuel duty, vehicle excise duty), i.e. road maintenance funds, are decreasing. There will be a lengthy transition period where the roads are shared by conventional and autonomous vehicles. Changes will need to be acceptable to the public. Future-proofing design, with minimal cost and disruption, is needed for a smart, flexible and dynamic road infrastructure. Good adaptation of roads will in return, encourage the uptake of autonomous vehicles and the roll-out of supporting infrastructure.

Candidate will look into current design standards for roads and junctions, such as the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB). They will study the performance requirements of components and systems for autonomous vehicles, such as braking and lane-keeping assistance, and investigate the implications of having autonomous vehicles for road design and management. The demand for other enabling infrastructure (e.g. 5G) will also be studied. One output of the project will be recommendations for vehicle automation depending on the automation levels and road types, such as geometry and traffic rules. Research interest in road design and safety, human machine interface (HMI), transport modelling and highway life cycle assessment is required. Pre-experience in these areas is desirable but not essential. The project will focus on passenger vehicles, but results should be beneficial to researches on other road users, such as public transport and freight.

Funding Notes

This project is in competition for a 3.5 years EPSRC DTP 2020 Environment scholarship which will include tuition fees (£4,500 for 2019/20), tax-free stipend (£15,009 for 2019/20), and a research training and support grant.

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