The University of Massachusetts Amherst

“My long-term research goal is to shape the interaction between people and their car such that as we introduce more automation into the car, fewer people die in traffic crashes,” explains engineering professor Shannon Roberts. With a $36,000 award from the Armstrong Fund for Science, Roberts is much closer to that goal. “This support,” Roberts affirms, “makes an interdisciplinary, long-range study with real-world impact a reality.”

With the Armstrong funding, Roberts and computer science professor Philip Thomas are creating an interdisciplinary engineering and computer science team to study the human factors in automated driving systems. Specifically, the study will address the question of when an automated driving system should warn a human driver that they may soon have to relinquish control of the vehicle.

As Roberts explains, if the system only gives warnings after it’s 100 percent certain that it will relinquish control, it may be too late for the human driver to respond. If it gives a warning when it is less than 100 percent certain, there may be so many false alarms that they degrade the driver’s trust in the system. “We seek a balance in the automated system between these two scenarios.”

Established in 2006, the Armstrong Fund supports promising research directions that do not yet have enough data available for the principals to apply to standard funding channels. Once Roberts and Thomas have the results of the initial study, they will be in a position to submit grants to federal sources for further studies.