University of Michigan slams on the brakes hard in self-driving vehicle research

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Check out the 2015 Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Vehicle that the media got to ride in at the Mcity demo day on the campus of the University of Michigan.
Mandi Wright/DFP

University of Michigan researchers want to find out what happens to humans when their vehicles decide on their own to avoid a crash.

The researchers brought 80 regular people of different ages and body sizes to the Mcity driverless vehicle test site on the university’s North Campus in May and June to find out.

“We bring people in from the community and slam on the brakes, record the acceleration and how (the people) respond to that hard braking event,” said Matthew Reed, a research professor who also heads the biosciences group at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

They discovered that when passengers unexpectedly had the brakes slammed, they pitched forward as much 8 inches despite wearing a seat belt in the front passenger seat. That’s a significant amount of movement while being restrained and has implications as an increasing number of vehicles employ emergency braking and other types of self-driving technology.

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Automatic braking systems, or eventually autonomous vehicles, would tend to brake harder than a human driver, causing a more dramatic effect on unprepared passengers.

Reed said the research could be used to help design features that automatically adjust seat belts or send out a warning sound before the brakes are applied or before the vehicle maneuvers to avoid a crash.

The research project and a separate project at the university’s Michigan Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care were announced today as beneficiaries of a partnership with Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center in Ann Arbor.

The Toyota center is spending $35 million to fund work at eight North American research institutions, including the University of Iowa — National Advanced Driving Simulator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Age Lab and University of California, San Diego, focused “on the impact of advanced technology on broader road safety trends and the interaction between humans and machines.”

U-M’s Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care is studying development of an in-vehicle emergency medical condition detection system.

This is a new round of funding from the Toyota research center, which has helped complete 44 projects at 23 institutions since 2011.

Chuck Gulash, director of the Toyota center, noted in a news release: “Autonomous and connected vehicle technologies are only just beginning to transform the transportation landscape.

“By working together with world-renowned institutions and making our results public, we are proud to help realize the promise of advanced mobility solutions and a safe, convenient transportation future.”

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.

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