University of Iowa to use part of DOT grant to research driverless vehicles

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- The University of Iowa plans to use a one point four million dollar grant to look at the safety of automated cars.

The funds came from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Iowa will share the money with four other institutions. It'll cover research into a variety of topics. One of them, automated driving.

Specifically, UI researchers plan to look at how automated vehicles interact with pedestrians and bicyclists. Scientists said, right now, pedestrians and cyclists can use visual cues to figure out if the driver of a vehicle sees them or not, when crossing. Waves, eye contact, that sort of thing.

Automated vehicles present a new challenge-- no one in the driver's seat-- just a computer without cues.

"There's work being done and work that will be done," said Dr. Joseph Kearney, a computer science professor at the school, "that will look at interactions between pedestrians and bicyclists and automated vehicles and semi automated vehicles in order to see how pedestrians respond."

Another thing the money will allow? The UI will be able to connect its pedestrian simulators wirelessly to its advanced driving simulators. That means both will be able feature real-time pedestrians and drivers in each system, kind of like playing an online game with a friend.

The UI said the grant can renew each year, for five years.