The U.S. Dept. of Transportation promised it would channel funding of highway research to new programs when the National Automated Highway System Consortium disbanded more than a year ago (see WAW - Sept '98, p.83).

So it wasn't a surprise when the federal agency recently awarded $12.7 million in Intelligent Vehicle Initiative grants, the program that replaced NAHSC. But the recipients of DOT's grants raised an eyebrow or two.

Instead of again teaming with the auto industry, as it did under the NAHSC banner, DOT's first major IVI undertaking is with big truck makers, including Mack Trucks Inc., Volvo Trucks North America Inc., Freightliner Corp. and Navistar International Transportation Corp. The proposal was selected over offers from three other transportation areas - automotive, specialty vehicles and mass transit.

Numerous universities, state agencies and companies also are involved in the IVI programs.

Funding for NAHSC was cut by DOT after studies indicated it would be better to focus on near-term safety solutions, such as collision-avoidance systems, rather than programs decades away from being realized. The NAHSC's goal was an elaborate cross-country infrastructure that enabled "hands free" automated driving.

Four research groups will use the IVI grants.

Mack is leading a partnership that will test in the Southeast an infrastructure-assisted warning system that notifies drivers via an in-dash display of possibly dangerous highway zones, such as high accident areas, certain exit ramps and construction zones. These areas are ascertained by each state's DOT.

Another part of the testing involves an "Automatic Collision Notification System" that records details before and after an incident, determines the location of the vehicle and then notifies appropriate agencies. However, the system shouldn't be thought of as an airplane's black box.

"We're not out there to record all types of information from an accident," explains Mark Kachmarksy, Mack manager of vehicle electronic products. "What we're trying to do is provide quicker response time - something that would be helpful if there was an accident, like accurate cargo information."

Both systems will be installed through summer 2000 and tested for 18 months.

In the Midwest, Freightliner will test its Roll Stability Advisor, which uses sensors integrated into a truck's antilock brake system to inform the driver of potentially risky driving. Messages appear on a dash display and are sent with increased urgency as rollover potential increases.

"Oftentimes, drivers do not know that they are on the verge of a rollover," says Gary Rossow, director of government technical affairs for Freightliner. A data unit can record warnings, which can be used at a later date to coach drivers, Mr. Rossow says.

Volvo and the Minnesota DOT lead the two other partnerships. Volvo will test collision warning and advanced braking systems while Minnesota DOT, with the help of Navistar, will test a fleet of snowplows equipped with collision warning and lateral guidance.