NREL Launches Sustainable Mobility Initiative, Joins CDOT Partnership

Today's transportation system is rapidly evolving, with increasingly automated vehicles and tremendous amounts of information at the fingertips of the modern-day traveler. Recognizing this, the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently formed a partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) on the state's $20 million RoadX transportation program, formally kicking off the lab's broader Sustainable Mobility Initiative.

NREL's Sustainable Mobility Initiative approaches transportation as an integrated system, where travelers and transportation resources are viewed as a dynamic network that can be used to optimize mobility and significantly reduce related energy consumption and emissions. NREL will draw on the cross-cutting research capabilities now consolidated under its Sustainable Mobility umbrella to offer far-reaching solutions that support CDOT's RoadX program, a transformative plan that reimagines transportation in Colorado as a crash-free, technologically advanced system.

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NREL's Transportation and Hydrogen Systems Center (THSC) Director Chris Gearhart said that historically, sustainable transportation research has focused on making individual vehicles more fuel efficient. "But that focus is evolving to also include systems of connected vehicles," he said. "Emerging technologies now make vehicle-to-vehicle information exchange possible, and travelers are connected by ubiquitous smartphones. Data collected via these technologies help us understand how drivers and travelers make decisions—and we use that information to steer our in-lab research toward better solutions."

The shift to a more connected mobility system requires a different set of players. In collaboration with automakers, information providers, and federal and state agencies, NREL is combining its longstanding expertise in vehicle-to-grid integration, data analysis, and vehicles and fuels research with vehicle automation, behavioral science, and urban science to approach sustainable transportation as a network of travelers, services, and environments—rather than just vehicles and roads.

With new electric vehicle companies such as Tesla, tech startups, and information technology giants including Google and Verizon, deployment of advanced transportation technology is no longer dependent on one group or industry. Growing collaborations between Detroit and Silicon Valley generated considerable buzz at the recent 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, where several automakers announced their commitments to advanced vehicle automation features, in addition to partnerships with rideshare companies that offer on-demand transportation options.

Just 10 years ago, the dominant view on vehicle automation was that it probably would take another 50 years to reach the marketplace. Yet today, breakthrough vehicle technologies and ride-sharing business models are already changing the mobility system to one that's multi-disciplinary, integrated—and continually moving.

With increased automation and advanced sensors, intelligent vehicles can more effectively synchronize movements to avoid hazards, streamline traffic flow, and reduce congestion and the risk of accidents. Automated features such as parking assist and collision avoidance are becoming standard even in conventional vehicles. With the growing popularity of on-demand and rideshare services such as Uber, Lyft, and Car2Go, the mobility landscape is shifting from one dominated by private vehicle ownership to a rich mixture of auto-free or auto-light lifestyles, viewing mobility as a service.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has spearheaded a number of vehicle automation and connectivity initiatives, and announced in 2014 that vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology will soon be required for all light vehicles. The agency's Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot and Smart Cities Challenge are investigating additional safety and driver convenience benefits of automation.

"That's a significant distinction from our Sustainable Mobility push," said Gearhart. "These other efforts have barely touched on the technologies' energy efficiency potential."

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Date: Jan 22, 2016