Vanderbilt helps launch TennSMART to accelerate intelligent mobility

Vanderbilt University and 19 other public and private partners have launched the TennSMART Consortium to capitalize on Tennessee’s position as an automotive sector leader.

The goal is accelerating development and use of technologies for autonomous and connected vehicles and smart infrastructure, among other areas.

As a non-profit startup based in Oak Ridge, the consortium and its members will help develop a technology roadmap for intelligent mobility initiatives in Tennessee. The state Department of Transportation (TDOT) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are members but will not run the new group. Leveraging expertise across the membership puts the state on a faster track to take advantage of mobility opportunities than any single organization acting alone.

The group, which is selecting board members, refining its agenda and setting its initial meetings, has identified five areas of focus:

  • Connected and automated vehicles
  • Heavy duty trucking and freight efficiency
  • Cybersecurity
  • Electric vehicles, and
  • Multimodal commuting

“Connected and automated vehicles bring new opportunities to help increase safety on roadways across Tennessee,” said TDOT’s Ryan Simpson. “TennSMART brings together industry leaders, research institutions, and government to integrate intelligent mobility advances into long-range plans for the Tennessee transportation system.” 

Vanderbilt, the School of Engineering in particular, has multiple experts and research initiatives with direct application to next-generation transportation technology.

The Vanderbilt Center for Transportation and Operational Resiliency (VECTOR) emphasizes the integration of transportation engineering, planning, and management. Formed in 1988, VECTOR also pioneers applications of information technology, risk management and systems thinking across areas that include intermodal freight, advanced information systems, and safety, security, and risk management.

“The idea is to create an ‘intellectual ecosphere’ that strengthens existing relationships to break down barriers and create public-private partnerships,” said Craig Philip, director of VECTOR and a research professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Separately, the Vanderbilt Initiative for Smart Cities Operation and Research (VISOR) taps faculty members in social science, education, computer science, mathematics and engineering to address issues in fast-growing Nashville using data analytics, mobile devices and smart applications.

The Vanderbilt Institute for Software Integrated Systems also is heavily involved in transportation matters – Gautam Biswas, professor of computer engineering, is the principal investigator on the VISOR initiative.

Additionally, a new faculty member specializes in methods to improve transportation using advances in sensing, communication and computing. Daniel Work, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, investigates how to use of self-driving cars to improve traffic flow and how to use vehicle GPS and sensor system data to improve mass transit decisions. He joined Vanderbilt in December 2017.

“The transportation landscape is rapidly evolving due to numerous technology advancements, and Tennessee is in a perfect position to capitalize on these these improvements,” Work said.

From an economic development perspective, the formation of TennSMART sends an important signal that the state intends to be a player investors and mobility-related companies should consider.

“We have a critical mass in Tennessee around the automotive space and need to be on the map,” said Philip, citing not only research expertise but OEMs and their suppliers.

That map includes states considered friendly to autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles, which Tennessee is. A 2017 state law made it legal to use autonomous vehicles in Tennessee after receiving special permission, though the details and regulations have not been worked out.

Founding members in addition to Vanderbilt, TDOT and ORNL include Bridgestone Americas, Cummins Filtration, Inc., DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee, FedEx Corporation, GRIDSMART Technologies, Inc., Local Motors, Lyft, Miovision, Nissan North America, Stantec Consulting Services Inc., Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Tennessee Tech University, Tennessee Valley Authority, Top Five Inc., University of Memphis, and The University of Tennessee.

Simpson and Dan Miller, ORNL’s manager of industrial and economic development partnerships, are interim co-leaders and are soliciting addition members. Visit TennSMART for more information.

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