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Ohio State to study vehicles, drivers, crashes

Ohio State University will study what happens to drivers and their vehicles prior to crashes through its new multimillion-dollar research center, the university announced Wednesday.

Researchers at the university hope the new Crash Imminent Safety University Transportation Center will increase their understanding of the technological design and interaction factors linked to crashes.

"During the last few years the introduction of autonomous cars into human-driven traffic has raised safety concerns about the design of these vehicles and how humans will react to them," UTC head Umit Ozguner said.

Ozguner, a professor of computer and electrical engineering, said vehicle analysis is critical when trying to understand different ways to minimize injuries in accidents.

"By studying drivers' actions and how vehicles behave in that short period of time, engineers should be able to design safer vehicles," he said. "This research will become even more critical in the years to come as even more advanced vehicles are developed."

A key research point will come in developing a common, linked driver simulation, the university said. This will allow researchers to simulate accidents to discover pre-crash conditions inside the vehicle.

Project investigator Janet Weisenberger, who directs the university's Driving Simulation Laboratory, said the more simulations being run, the more accurate their results will be.

"A networked simulation with multiple human drivers gives us a closer approximation to real-world driving situations," she said. "Because people can be unpredictable, this networked simulation will give us a better way to evaluate human driving behavior and decision-making, and use that information to design the best possible autonomous systems for cars."

Ohio State will work with partners on this project, including Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, North Carolina A&T State University, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The project, funded in part through grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration, will cost more than $4 million in the first two years of operation. OSU officials said the university will receive $1.41 million this year and has requested an additional $1.5 million for 2014.

Whether the funds for the grant are subject to fiscal constraints because of the federal government shutdown remains to be seen. However, the inital sum is part of a $63 million pool provided to 33 universities nationwide for research in various fields of transit.

"University transportation centers are key to helping us address today's transportation needs, from environmental sustainability to safety," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement to media. "The participating universities are a critical part of our national transportation strategy and to developing a professional workforce with the expertise and knowledge to tackle the challenges of the future."

-- By Mickey Shuey, a senior at the University of Dayton.

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