Utah research facility leading the way in groundbreaking technology

Members of the Transportation Interim Committee recently visited Utah State University and areas around Cache Valley to see technology being devolved and implemented in cars, trucks and other vehicles around the world.

Self-driving-autonomous vehicles are close to becoming a reality. Committee members saw demonstrations of the significant advancements made in autonomous technology. Leading experts and researchers from Utah State University informed legislators that the progress could lead to more efficient transportation, provide mobility to more Americans and potentially achieve substantial improvements in safety.

“This revolutionary technology is changing the world,” said Rep. Robert Spendlove. “Regulations for autonomous vehicles is being and will continue to be addressed by federal and local governments. I want to make certain Utah regulations enhance the development of this technology not hinder it.”

Autonomous features are already being integrated into vehicles to help drivers avoid or mitigate crashes. Such features include lane and brake assist, forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control, which automatically maintains a safe following distance.

“Utah has experts leading this groundbreaking research,” said Rep. Mike Schultz, co-chair of the Transportation Interim Committee. “I appreciate Rep. Spendlove taking the time to lead this effort so committee members can see this technology first-hand and better prepare for the future.”

Additionally, USU has the only Electric Vehicle and Roadway facility in the country. Similar research facilities are in development or operation in Sweden, France and South Korea. During the visit, committee members witnessed USU’s fully electric 20-passenger bus – referred to as the ‘Aggie Bus’ – drive around the 1⁄4-mile test track at about 30 MPH.

The Aggie Bus is equipped with an autonomous control kit from Autonomous Solutions Inc., a spin-off of USU, and in-motion inductive wireless battery charging, developed at USU. This technology allows wireless power transfer from multiple concrete embedded primary pads/coils in the roadway to vehicle-mounted coils and battery systems to charge the vehicle while driving.

Researchers are aiming for fully electric vehicles, enabled with autonomous control and charged through electric roads. With these technologies vehicles can charge while in-motion and drive without human control. Drivers also have the ability to take over at any time and operate on standard roads. Autonomous control is a key enabler and is required to identify inductive power transfer coils embedded in the roadway and to align automatically under various road and weather conditions.

Further technological development at USU is aiming to advance energy storage in electric vehicles by increasing battery lifetime 30 to 45 percent. The improvements can reduce the cost and weight of vehicle battery systems and improve residual value for second life applications. The technologies are being evaluated by major automotive original equipment manufacturers for future electric vehicles.