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A Smart Road for Driven Students

Virginia Tech's Smart Road

It might not be pretty, but it’s pretty amazing.

This ordinary-looking stretch of road is anything but. Nestled in the mountains of southwest Virginia, the 2.2 mile blacktop contains three bridges, including the tallest maintained by the state and a lighted intersection–but that’s not what makes it extra-special.

This road has a brain.

Its pavement contains sensors that measure moisture, temperature, strain, vibrations, and weighing-in-motion. The road also has a lighting test bed and a half-mile stretch that produces rain, fog, and snow! It’s called a Smart Road.

This open-air laboratory run by Virginia Tech is responsible for a lot of transportation innovations. Back-up cameras, forward-collision warnings, and crash-imminent braking (the mechanism that stops the car automatically if a crash is going to happen) were all tested and developed on this road to some extent. There are other technologies on the horizon, including “connected vehicles” that could predict crashes and warn the driver in both cars; they could also apply brakes in case of an imminent accident.

With a lab of this scale, huge projects come through, bringing large teams of undergraduate and graduate students with them. More than 100 undergraduate students in electrical, mechanical, software, and civil engineering programs (to name a few) have contributed to research on the Smart Road.

Click here to read Prism’s full coverage on the Virginia Tech Smart Road.

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