Teach Me Interview Series: Cody Stolle on Connected and Automated Vehicles

Wed, 05/26/2021

I’m Neil Rutledge, a Research Associate at the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center. Part of my work is engaging with the talented faculty, fellows, and grant recipients who are a part of our work at the center, sharing their work and expertise with other scholars and the public.

As part of the Teach Me series, I sit down with these NGTC scholars to ask them about their work related to law and technology. In this installment of the Teach Me series, I talk with Cody Stolle, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical & Materials Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln about his work with Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs); work that we at the NGTC are excited to help support.


So Cody, I know your work is related to Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs). In brief, what are CAVs?

           CAVs are “smart” vehicles. Connected vehicles have features that allow vehicles to talk to each other, such as congestion warning systems or emergency brake warning. When vehicles can communicate with each other, crashes or risks can be communicated even when the other vehicles aren’t able to “see” those risks. Automated vehicles have features which permit some degree of self-driving. The Society of Automotive Engineers has a five-level system to classify autonomy, but currently all passenger vehicles available for sale are either Level 2 or Level 3, with a few automated options available including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, crash mitigation through automated braking, side-tracking warning, and some frontal object identification - such as pedestrian detection and warning systems.

CAVs have an undeniable ‘cool-factor’ to them, but beyond that what would you say are their principal benefits?

          CAVs are linked to multiple potential societal benefits: improving transportation safety by preventing on-road and run-off-road (ROR) crashes; providing critical transportation needs for vulnerable, aged, and disabled peoples; reducing congestion through traffic planning; and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by improving the efficiency of the transportation network. My research field is in run-off-road crashes, and there are many contributing factors to roadside departures: distraction, drowsiness, mechanical failures, poor weather and road conditions, and collisions in the lanes like sideswipes or swerving to avoid other vehicles encroaching into the lane. CAVs can reduce the number of these types of crashes greatly.

I’ve also heard that CAVs might have city planning implications; reducing the need for parking garages for example; how would that work?

          There are several approaches to decrease the parking demand in cities. One concept would be to automate rideshares and make them driverless. This can expand mobility on a local scale and decrease the need for personal vehicles for many people. Another concept for reduced centralized parking is a “call-and-retrieve” system where a person’s vehicle can identify and “reserve” a parking space by communicating with the city infrastructure, then automatically coming to retrieve you when you are ready to go again. This mechanism would allow parking to occur on the periphery of the urban “hot spots” instead of taking up space with large, expensive parking garages.

What is the current state of the use of CAVs?

          Current government investment in CAV development and facility implementation are limited primarily to large, congested, high-population urban areas. Very little CAV development or new supportive infrastructure have been installed in most states, and when installed, applications are typically limited to a few high truck-traffic highways and pilot projects.

Are there other barriers to the adoption of CAVs?

          Many obstructions led to hesitation by transportation agencies: (1) the speed of new technology development means that “cutting-edge” technology in one year may be obsolete in the span of only 12 months, although the competitive bid, funding, and installation effort may span 14 months; (2) liabilities associated with installing unproven technologies that could have a detrimental effect on non-CAV vehicles could prove more costly than beneficial; and (3) most CAV development is being conducted by private businesses, in which government observation and participation is limited. People want fully-developed technologies and are hesitating to experiment with advancements that are only partly implemented.

How much of a barrier is public perception of the safety of CAVs? My uneducated guess is that a few high profile accidents have a way of distorting the public’s perception of risk around CAVs. I mean driving a car is already, statistically, a pretty dangerous proposition.

          There are several challenges to overcome in public perception. High-profile accidents do tend to be emphasized as the news media focus on novel occurrences. Drivers who feel “harassed” by the vehicles or who experience warnings when no safety risks occur (e.g, the occasional lane keeping warning when the vehicle is in the center of the lane) also tend to think and speak poorly of automated vehicles, and that can have a community dissuasion effect. Besides concern for safety is that many drivers, particularly older drivers, don’t want the vehicle to drive itself - they prefer the driving experience and don’t see a convenience or benefit in automating driving.

How does manufacturer liability factor in here?

          State DOTs noted the legal and liability aspects may be the most difficult to address at this time. Few legislative actions have been passed clarifying the responsibilities of drivers, manufacturers, and the states under CAV use, and based on existing case law and the limited or unlimited liability status of many state governments, the legal implications for transportation facility accommodation specifically for CAVs have yet to be evaluated.

So what will be the focus of the element of your research that will be funded by your NGTC grant?

          Funding for this research effort would support Ph.D. candidate Ricardo Jacome to perform a literature review of case law and relevant legislative materials which are pertinent to connected and automated vehicles (CAVs); submit a survey to state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) to prioritize legislative and rulemaking needs to support CAV infrastructure to support state agency use; and to provide a recommended prioritization for state DOTs to engage in CAV infrastructure investments in an efficient and productive way. The Nebraska Department of Transportation is eager to see what governmental, particularly legislative, conditions can facilitate investment and growth of CAV market in Nebraska by controlling liabilities, defining the rights and responsibilities of drivers and driverless vehicles, and incentivizing research and manufacturing in hard conditions like fog, snow, rain, ice, salt-bleached roads, and crop dust which can make CAV navigation more difficult.

Any other thoughts that you think readers might be interested to know about CAVs, or maybe misconceptions that you think would be worth clearing up?

          CAV technology is gaining rapidly and the cost of new innovation is going down. CAVs currently require drivers to remain engaged with the vehicle at all times, limiting liability if the driver chooses to disengage. Although we’re still some distance away from fully automated vehicles, the future of transportation is likely to continue to involve drivers making many of the driving decisions. Humans are still too complex and intuitive to replicate with machines right now!

Tags: Fellows

Headshot of Cody Stolle