WNCG Launches UT SAVES Initiative

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Envision an early cubist painting by the famous artist Pablo Picasso. To the untrained eye, the painting can look like a jumbled series of boxes overlapping and intertwining with each other. But the art of cubism is about exploring the world from multiple perspectives. The painting, which at first looks like boxes, is actually a city seen from multiple perspectives.

“If you think about automated driving, that is the kind of perspective we want,” SAVES Director and WNCG Prof. Robert Heath states, “Except we want to see where cars and pedestrians, in addition to buildings, are located within those multiple perspectives.”

This ability to sense a city’s infrastructure, moving parts and pedestrian traffic to enable a clearer path for automated vehicles is just one of the many challenges the Situation-Aware Vehicular Engineering Systems (SAVES) research initiative hopes to resolve.

In partnership with UT Austin’s Center for Transportation Research (CTR), WNCG faculty recently launched the SAVES initiative to explore the emerging interconnection between wireless and transportation. As part of WNCG, SAVES combines WNCG’s expertise in wireless networking and communications, data and signal processing, with CTR’s experience in transportation, traffic modeling, policy and planning to help reduce collisions, design faster commutes and increase connectivity to make the automated aspects of driving more efficient.

“The collaboration between WNCG and CTR allows us to come together and ask tough questions,” Prof. Heath states. “Between their faculty, researchers and roughly 170 graduate students, combined with WNCG’s faculty and student resources, we at UT Austin are well-positioned to exploit this emerging interconnectedness between wireless and transportation.”

The three pillars of SAVES include communications, which seek to create higher data rates and lower latency, sensing to establish better sensing technology and fuse sensor data, and data analytics to combine sensor data and make it available for transportation departments and city planners so they can better manage transportation networks and commute times. 

In conjunction with their founding partners Toyota ITC, Huawei and National Instruments, SAVES hopes to solve key technical challenges within these three pillars.

“The applications we’re creating are worthwhile because we’re working to reduce collisions and make commute times faster, which has an appeal for many people,” Prof. Heath states. “This topic is now recognized as a strategic area for the cellular communication industry because connectivity makes automated aspects of driving more efficient.”

According to Prof. Heath, higher data rates can enable greater connectivity between vehicles and infrastructure, which can improve safety and decision-making within a vehicle.

With higher data rates, Prof. Heath mentions, instead of relying on the car in front of you to run the necessary algorithms, identify pixels and find pedestrians, the car in front can ship any data it has to your vehicle, which can run algorithms and make decisions for itself based on more data than it otherwise would have collected.

“As for low latency,” Prof Heath mentions, “You may not need gigabits per second for this application, but you would for safety critical messages. For example, if there’s an accident in the intersection or a pedestrian crosses the street, you want to know to slow down. That information only needs a few bits, but it must be delivered in a timely fashion.”

Sensing allows cars to talk to each other and impacts the role of infrastructure. Taller sensing infrastructure allows a vehicle to see the full environment and provide better situational awareness. This could provide key visuals in cases where a large truck blocks the view of a small car behind it, for example.

This new research initiative will involve seven out of the 22 current WNCG professors, including, in addition to Prof. Heath, Profs. Al Bovik, Edison Thomaz, Todd Humphreys, Gustavo de Veciana, Joydeep Ghosh and Evdokia Nikolova. 

“Does the self-driving car hype reflect reality?” Prof. Heath asks. “We have a long way to go. Even though the field is really hyped right now, this is the time to come in, double down on investment and really start looking at what wireless can do in this space.”