UI requests new driving safety research institute

The request would change the current National Advanced Driving Simulation to a broader research center for driving safety.


Matthew Kennedy

Sophia Davis drives the test car in the testing area of the University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driving Simulator, in Coralville, Iowa, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022.

Grace Katzer, News Reporter

The University of Iowa is requesting a new driving safety research institute in the College of Engineering from the state Board of Regents on Wednesday.

The new institute’s mission is to make roads safer by researching the connection between humans and vehicles, according to the regents’ academic affairs committee report

If approved, the request would rebrand the current UI National Advanced Driving Simulator, a transportation safety research center in the UI’s College of Engineering, in hopes to expand research to a broader scale. 

The current National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) program utilizes world-class driving simulators to conduct research studies for the private and public sectors, according to its website. The program has received $27 million in funding for onroad research over the past decade. 

“The proposed transition of NADS to a broad-based research institute will better represent interdisciplinary capabilities, expand access to funding opportunities, and help make roads safer,” the report stated. 

Plans for the new institute include five on-road research vehicles with data collection equipment and advanced automated technologies in four of the vehicles.

Kevin Kregel, UI executive vice president and provost, presented the request to the state Board of Regents at its Nov. 9 meeting.

Kregel said the new institute would allow for expanded federal funding for the institution’s research. 

“The NADS term implied that the work done is only driving simulation studies and actually there is very broad based research going on and efforts being made,” he said. 

Kregel said the institute would not require any new resources, costs, and staff hiring will remain the same. 

According to the report, the proposed institution would specialize in research in two areas: 

  • Automated vehicle technology and its implementation would be a focus along with the goal of having  safe implementation of those automated vehicles on roadways.
  • Cannabis legalization and the increase of cannabis usage. The institution would focus on understanding the effects of impaired drivers’ performance on the road.

Expanded research initiatives include driving simulations and naturalistic driving, driving technology, human factors and behavior, engineering modeling, and impaired driving.

The research organization would collaborate with virtually every college on the UI’s campus, according to the report.

“A new institute will take the university to a new level of competitiveness and attract even more researchers, industry, and students to come to the institute to take driving safety to new heights,” the report stated. 

The UI’s NADS program works closely with Iowa State University’s Institute for Transportation, which focuses on transportation from an infrastructure perspective. Kregel said the proposed institute would only open up more opportunities for collaboration between the two universities. 

In a letter of support to the proposed institute, Shauna Hallmark, director of the Institute for Transportation at ISU, wrote that she is happy to hear about the new potential institute. 

“We have a unique relationship in our state—where we collaborate to create a unique complimentary research program that touches Iowans first, the nation, and then the world,” she wrote. “Together we can take our research to new heights. I fully support your efforts to transition to a research institute.” 

The requests will go to the regents for approval at its meeting on Thursday in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

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