A room packed full of engineering students and transportation professionals sat intently listening to three experts present on automated and connected vehicles (AV/CV) during the 5th Annual WTS Transportation Symposium. This topic, currently sizzling hot in the transportation industry, was addressed from the academic, public and private sector perspectives.
Automated vehicles (AV) are at the top of the nation’s transportation agenda, and Florida, along with three other states (California, Michigan and Nevada), including the District of Columbia, have passed legislation allowing testing and driving of vehicles with this technology.
The WTS Florida Gator Student Chapter, host of the symposium, chose this topic because of Florida’s role in AV testing. Also, they wanted to engage students, experts and transportation professionals in a discussion on AV/ CVs and their importance to the future of transportation engineering, including jobs, safety, the aging population and more.
“The WTS Chapter at the University of Florida did a great job organizing their meeting where they discussed Autonomous Vehicles,” said Jeanette Berk, a senior consultant from RSG in St. Augustine, Fla. Berk, who was in the audience, is also a member of the WTS professional chapter in Jacksonville, Fla. “They chose three speakers/topics that focused on a variety of issues related to this subject. It is always great when a program is put together in such a way where the audience gets exposed to different facets associated with the topic on hand.”
Berk also went on to mention that she was impressed with the students in organizing such an event, and liked the way WTS chapter members took turns introducing each guest panelist. She was also delighted to see numerous male students in the audience.
“The effort was truly a group effort led by a handful of young women,” she said. “By sharing the responsibilities, they provided each of them the opportunity to obtain the experience of speaking in front of a group. As we all know, these are important skills. Last but not least, there was about an equal mix of young women and young men. Although WTS’ mission is to get more women involved in the field of transportation, it takes all of us working together to find solutions to the complexities in society today.”
The event included a question and answer session where audience and panelists primarily engaged in philosophical discussions such as: Who would be responsible when a self-driving car causes an accident? Would people trust riding in an AV? What would the implications be for Florida’s aging population?
“It was clear to me from the questions entertained by all panelists that the students were eager to engage in deeper dialogue on the materials presented, so that they could clearly understand how these technologies can impact their lives and those in the world around them,” said Ben Walker, associate vice president HTNB Corporation. Walker is working with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on its automated vehicle initiative. He was one of the guest panelists.
Dr. David Metcalf, senior researcher and director of the Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab (METIL) at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, also was one of the guest speakers. Through various videos, images, and news articles, the primary topics he discussed included a review of connected/electric vehicle capabilities and a sneak preview of their FDOT self-driving car simulator and examples of innovative partnerships involving UF and UCF.
“I appreciated the thought provoking dialogue and questions from your students,” Metcalf said. “Inspiring our next generation of engineers and technologists is part of our shared mission between UF and UCF. I hope we can find many ways to partner in the future.”
Metcalf’s son, Adam, a high school student, was also a guest panelist. Adam recounted his experience participating in the Tesla Motors challenge to drive a Model S for more than 400 miles on a single charge. The father and son team won the challenge with 423.5 miles driven in their car through North, Central and South Florida. Their efforts were recognized by Tesla company owner Elon Musk and receiving a mention on The Colbert Report.
“It was great to have the opportunity to speak at the WTS at UF,” Adam said. “I am a huge Gator fan and enjoyed meeting students with similar interest. I also learned a lot from the students and faculty about new transportation technologies.”
Also during the event, Dr. Carl Crane, a professor in the UF Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, gave a lively presentation and showed various video clips of his work related to autonomous vehicles, especially during the DARPA Urban Challenge, where unmanned vehicles had to navigate city streets while obeying standard traffic laws. During this challenge, a hybrid Toyota Highlander was automated and instrumented with GPS and ladar sensors. Unfortunately, Team Gator Nation’s vehicle did not win, but there were many lessons learned for future endeavors.
You can see more images of the event in the picture gallery below.