Skip to main content

Ohio State Awarded $15 Million for Autonomous Transportation Research


*This post was created by Ohio State News.*

The U.S. Department of Transportation has chosen a research consortium led by The Ohio State University to address cybersecurity risks in various modes of transportation.

Ohio State will receive $10 million in federal funding and $5 million in cost-share over the next five years to establish a Tier 1 University Transportation Center (UTC). U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced up to $435 million in grant awards for 34 UTCs that will help the next generation of transportation professionals make roads, bridges, rail, shipping and airspace safer, more innovative and more efficient.

“We are proud to support University Transportation Centers across the country that are developing cutting-edge technologies to improve our transportation systems for years to come,” Buttigieg said. “With this investment, we’ll be able to support a new generation of leaders as they continue to pursue research that will usher in safer, cleaner and more accessible ways to get people where they need to go.”

UTCs advance transportation expertise and technology in the varied disciplines that compose the field of transportation through education, research and technology transfer activities.

The new UTC at Ohio State is called CARMEN+, short for Center for Automated Vehicle Research with Multimodal Assured Navigation, and will be led by electrical and computer engineering Professor Zak Kassas. CARMEN+ will expand upon work completed in the two-year CARMEN UTC, awarded to Ohio State in 2020 and led by Kassas.

The CARMEN+ consortium also includes North Carolina A&T State University, University of Texas at Austin and University of California, Irvine. With expertise in positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), cybersecurity and autonomous vehicles, the team will study how to make highly automated transportation systems resilient to deliberate attacks against their sensors, communications devices and controls.

“From a potential future of zero roadway fatalities to increased transportation accessibility and equity, the promises of highly automated transportation systems are compelling,” said Kassas, who is also an affiliated faculty member at Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research. “But autonomous vehicles will fail to gain the public’s trust if they are seen as vulnerable to cyberattacks.”

The types of potential attacks include jamming or spoofing global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) or radar signals, injecting false data into a network of cooperating vehicles, and compromising the timing or sensing of a smart intersection, among others.

“If attacks like these successfully snarl traffic, ground air taxi fleets, or worse, endanger lives, public trust in highly automated vehicles will be eroded, and their benefits to society will be delayed,” Kassas added.

The Ohio State-led consortium will develop concrete, testable and scalable solutions to reduce transportation cybersecurity risks. Relevant expertise and resources are abundant between the four institutions, including three preeminent PNT labs, four dedicated transportation and autonomous vehicle research centers, an electromagnetics research center, The Ohio State University Airport and close affiliation with the Transportation Research Center, Inc., home of the nation’s largest autonomous vehicle proving grounds. Members of the team also are active partners with Edwards Air Force Base in live GNSS interference testing and high-altitude aircraft flight testing.

“We will leverage these facilities and testbeds to demonstrate the efficacy of our proposed cyber-resilient mitigation strategies through rigorous real-world testing,” said Kassas. “And our work will extend beyond unmanned road and aerial vehicles to infrastructure and Internet-of-Things applications.”

The CARMEN+ education and workforce development plan supplements the partner institutions’ accredited undergraduate and graduate programs with new curriculum development, a biannual symposium connecting students with industry, and new transportation research immersion programs for high school and community college students. Student recruitment will include efforts to attract members of underserved or underrepresented communities.

Technology transfer and collaboration also will be a priority for Ohio State’s UTC, according to Kassas. A comprehensive advisory board includes representatives from industry, nonprofit organizations, academia and local, state and federal government agencies.

Reflecting the popularity of the program that launched in 1988, the U.S. Department of Transportation received a record 169 UTC grant proposals, from which only 20 Tier 1 UTCs were awarded.