The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Monday that it will make $160 million in grants available annually over the next five years for technology that will improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure and make communities safer. Included in that is funding for vehicle technology, such as automation and connectivity, the department said.
“As we undertake the most ambitious infrastructure investment in generations, thanks to the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we can and must plan for the transportation needs of the future,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “From connected vehicles that make driving safer, to smart traffic signals that reduce congestion, to sensors to detect the quality of pavement to help prioritize repair, our SMART grants will fund technology that makes people’s lives better in communities across America.”
Up to $100 million in grants will be offered annually for the next five years through the new Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program, funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Joe Biden on November 15, 2021. The program will fund projects that use data and technology to solve real-world challenges facing communities.
The SMART Program “will fund purpose-driven innovation and focus on building data and technology capacity and expertise,” the DOT said. The program will seek proposals from public sector entities that focus on vehicle technology; systems innovation, such as traffic signals, smart grid, and data integration; and new ways to monitor and manage infrastructure, such as sensors and drones.
“Achieving our transportation priorities related to safety, economic strength, equity, and climate requires bold investment in new technologies and approaches,” Robert C. Hampshire, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology and Chief Science Officer at US DOT, said in a statement. “SMART supports a broad portfolio of projects across the country that will serve as beacons as we move toward a transportation system that is data-driven, values-based, and technology-enabled.”
A second program, the Federal Highway Administration’s $60 million Advanced Transportation Technology and Innovation (ATTAIN) program, is designed to promote advanced technologies to improve safety and reduce travel times for drivers and transit riders and that can serve as national examples.
Also funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, ATTAIN-eligible projects will be evaluated on how they consider climate change and environmental justice impacts – including how they reduce transportation-related air pollution and address the disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged communities. Projects will also be evaluated on their impact on the economy and potential to create jobs.
“As we level the playing field and improve the travel experience for everyone, we need to promote the use of state-of-the-art technologies, and the ATTAIN program does just that,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “The Biden-Harris Administration has taken a program with a track record of delivering innovation through the use of advanced technologies and made it truly forward-looking by refocusing its goals to include promoting equity and tackling climate change, in addition to creating jobs and delivering positive economic impact.”
Ford researches smartphone-based tech to protect pedestrians
In an unrelated development, Ford announced Monday that it is researching a new smartphone-based technology that could help warn drivers of the presence of pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable road users.
Ford said the concept uses an app on a pedestrian’s smartphone that can communicate its location to a connected Ford vehicle through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) messaging. If the vehicle calculates a potential crash risk, Ford’s SYNC system can use visual or audio alerts to warn the driver.
The OEM said it will join with Commsignia, PSS, Ohio State University, T-Mobile, and Tome Software to demonstrate the technology at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s World Congress in Los Angeles this week.
“Newer Ford vehicles already with Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology can detect and help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders and others – and even apply brakes if drivers do not respond in time,” Jim Buczkowski, Executive Director, Research and Advanced Engineering, said in a statement. “We are now exploring ways to expand vehicle sensing capability, for areas drivers cannot see, to help people drive even more confidently on roads increasingly shared by others using their two feet or two wheels.”
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates, traffic fatalities increased 13% between 2020 and 2021, to 7,342, while bicyclist traffic fatalities rose 5% percent, to 1,000, over the same period.
Unlike cameras or radar, the BLE-powered solution does not rely on line-of-sight detection, which means pedestrians and others can be detected while hidden behind obstructions such as buildings or parked cars. “This is especially relevant to the stress of big-city driving on shared roads,” Ford said.
BLE connectivity technology creates wireless personal area networks using radio waves in the 2.4-gigahertz band to communicate with other similarly equipped devices. It’s already widely available in smartphones, and is compatible with SYNC-connected vehicle technology without any hardware changes to the vehicle, Ford said.
Buczkowski said other uses of the technology are being considered, including detecting road construction zones and construction workers. “Ford innovates for the masses, so it’s very promising to start with Bluetooth Low Energy technology that’s already become part of our everyday lives because it’s affordable and effective,” he said.
Ford noted that BLE is widely used in personal electronics devices, such as smartphones, fitness monitoring devices, location-based services, and entertainment. While consumer applications often involve pairing two devices, Ford’s concept uses BLE as a beacon capable of sensing multiple other similarly equipped devices in range without pairing.
The system can differentiate between pedestrians and cyclists by their speed, and calculate the risk of collision by observing their direction.
The SMART Notice of Funding is open now and can be found at www.grants.gov. Applications must be submitted by 5:00 PM EDT on Friday, November 18, 2022. Eligible entities are state, local, and tribal governments and agencies. For more information visit https://www.transportation.gov/grants/SMART.
The ATTAIN Notice of Funding can also be found at www.grants.gov. State departments of transportation, local governments, transit agencies, metropolitan planning organizations and other eligible entities are invited to apply. Applications must be submitted by Friday, November 18, 2022. For more information, visit the FHWA web site at https://highways.dot.gov/.
A drone-point view of a city intersection at rush hour. (AerialPerspective Works/iStock)