Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Researchers at Virginia Tech have launched a study exploring the use of a new connected-vehicle technology application, in which stop, yield and other traffic signs are displayed inside the car rather than outside.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, located just a few miles off the main campus, is in the early stages of this so-called adaptive stop-yield study. The technology allows traffic signs to adapt to current traffic conditions. For example, if a car approaches an intersection with no other vehicles nearby, the driver is permitted to proceed without stopping. A dashboard screen automatically alerts the driver of what actions to take, if any.

“The idea is there would be no physical stop or yield signs on the side of the road, but they would be inside the vehicle,” said Alexandria Noble, a master’s student with the Virginia Tech Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Working with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Noble is spearheading the proof-of-concept project. Engineering professor Thomas A. Dingus, the institute’s director, will serve as her adviser and project manager.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is providing project funding.

The study directly ties into the institute’s growing endeavor into connected-vehicle technology, a futuristic intranet-like grid system where “smart” cars and other vehicles can communicate not only with each other but with surrounding infrastructure to help prevent crashes and ease congestion.

“This is part of our initial efforts to integrate more revolutionary safety concepts with the growing field of connected-vehicle technology,” said Dingus. “While a relatively new area in the transportation realm, adaptive stop/yield signs have the potential to be a long-term solution for not only minimizing traffic problems experienced on increasingly congested roadways, they may also help mitigate negative environmental impacts.”

Noble recently finished a 17-week closed experiment at the Virginia Smart Road, directly behind the institute’s main base. The experiment involved dozens of local test participants, ages 18-25 and also older than 50, in cars outfitted with small GPS-like dashboard screens that would alert the driver with a flashing display to stop, yield or proceed through the intersection.

Cameras set up in the test vehicle captured images of the driver's upper body, line of sight, the dashboard, and the vehicle itself.

"The deployment of this technology in the real world would involve a whole reworking of the transportation system and is not likely to be deployed in the near future," Noble said. "However, this study will be useful in developing future connected-vehicle applications in a general sense and demonstrates that this is possible and how well it is received by naive drivers with minimal training on the subject."