Auburn University plans new autonomous-vehicle research facility, complete with test track

Auburn Truck Platoon Test
Auburn University’s GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, part of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, conducts research on autonomous vehicle technology for both commercial and private use. This 2018 photo shows the first ever on-road commercial truck platooning trial in Canada, conducted by the university group in partnership with FPInnovations and Transport Canada. (Courtesy: Auburn University)

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn University’s GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory (GAVLAB)is planning the addition of a sophisticated new autonomous vehicle research facility at Auburn’s National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) test track. The facility is expected to provide a garage with multiple bays and lifts for commercial trucks and passenger vehicles, office space for researchers, a conference room and an observation area overlooking NCAT’s 1.7-mile oval test track.

The building, estimated to cost approximately $800,000, will be one of the few autonomous research facilities in the nation attached to a test track. Currently, much of the work done by researchers in the university’s GAVLAB — such as debugging algorithms, installing sensors and running data analyses — is done outdoors, subject to sweltering summer sun, pop-up thunderstorms and other weather-related elements.

“The fact that we’ll have our own test track where we can run autonomous vehicles and autonomous testing attached to this facility, I think will be an unbelievably unique asset,” said David Bevly, the Bill and Lana McNair Distinguished Professor of mechanical engineering. Bevly serves as co-director of the GAVLAB, along with assistant research professor Scott Martin.

Since Bevly joined the Auburn engineering faculty in 2001, the GAVLAB has built a strong reputation in autonomous vehicle navigation and developed a broad sponsored research portfolio, with projects ranging from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Highway Administration to private industry partners.

With various sponsors visiting each month, the facility’s planned observation area will give the GAVLAB team a high-quality space to demonstrate its research. Bevly’s group has also conducted demonstrations for legislators and the Alabama Department of Transportation.

“I think it will be a great facility for us as a team, but also to showcase our work,” Bevly said.

With a growing research thrust in transportation engineering, the autonomous research facility also demonstrates Auburn University’s commitment to supporting these research initiatives.

“Dave and his GAVLAB team are one of our top research groups on campus, and their work has elevated Auburn to an internationally prominent position in navigation and vehicle dynamics for autonomous vehicles,” said Jeff Suhling, the Quina Professor and department chair for mechanical engineering.

“Our department is proud to commit resources, along with the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, to support high-impact researchers,” Suhling continued. “We think this facility will really help set us apart from other universities in autonomous vehicle research.”

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  1. I am so happy to see this research being conducted at Auburn University! I am an alumni at Auburn twice and I belong to the Alumni Association! Also, my late husband drove an 18 wheeler for 32 years and complained of all the pot holes left in the asphalt by snow and ice especially going north on I-95. I have been dating a gentleman that is a trucker and he transport heavy duty tractor equipment for farmers. Again I hear him complaining as well about the breaks in the asphalt!


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