Congresswoman Summer Lee announced on May 30 that Carnegie Mellon University will lead a national consortium that will receive $20 million over the next five years from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish Safety21, a new University Transportation Center (UTC).
The consortium includes partners from across the U.S. who will collaborate to ensure that autonomous, networked, shared, and integrated transportation technologies and systems are developed and deployed with safety, equity and sustainability in mind. Their work will bolster the nation’s competitive edge in domestic production and global leadership of these technologies and provide training for the transportation workforce.
The transportation sector of the U.S. economy is undergoing a revolution. In the past decade, advances in sensing technologies, computing power and wireless communications coupled with AI and machine learning are directly addressing the quality and quantity of the transport of people and goods. Electric vehicles are poised to overtake gasoline-powered cars, with more driver-assist safety features than ever. Yet, there are over 40,000 automotive fatalities per year in the U.S., mostly due to human error.
Technology promises much, but the state-of-the-art in highly automated vehicles is not mature enough for widespread deployment. Failures of autonomy features raise legitimate questions of trust, and connectivity presents new threats to privacy and cybersecurity. At this critical juncture, to remain competitive, domestic industry needs innovative technologies, policy frameworks and well-trained workers.
To address these challenges, Safety21 will seek inclusive input from stakeholders, including communities, workers, users, vehicle manufacturers and researchers as it takes a holistic, system-of-systems approach to advancing connected and automated vehicle technologies and intelligent infrastructure.
"This award from the U.S. Department of Transportation affirms Carnegie Mellon’s long-established leadership in developing technology and informing policy to improve our nation’s transportation network. The impact of Safety21’s research will be expanded by the center’s intentional focus on equal access to safe and sustainable transportation for all communities," said Farnam Jahanian , president of Carnegie Mellon.
Carnegie Mellon is leading the consortium that spans Morgan State University, The Ohio State University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The Community College of Allegheny County and the Community College of Philadelphia will receive support for innovative workforce programs tailored for the existing and emerging transportation workforce.
"Through Safety21, faculty and student researchers will capitalize on the opportunities and risks that automated and connected vehicles present. The knowledge they create will be shared with transportation managers, companies and community organizations, resulting in technology transfer and deployment," said William H. Sanders , dean of CMU’s College of Engineering.
"Safety21 is yet another example of the important work we are doing at the critical nexus of technology and society," said Ramayya Krishnan , dean of the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. "As technological advancements in AI and electric vehicles continue to emerge, we must operate with a concentrated focus on the importance of safety, equity and the environment."
Raj Rajkumar , a professor of electrical and computer engineering, will lead Safety21. Rajkumar, who has earned global recognition for autonomous vehicle research, was the director of Carnegie Mellon’s last UTC, Mobility21 . Safety21 will be the fourth UTC that Carnegie Mellon has managed since 2012.
"Safety21’s project portfolio will enhance transportation safety through research, development, and deployment of breakthrough technologies and policy innovations. Additionally, we seek to broaden our impact by ensuring communities have equal access to safety technologies; evaluating energy use and emissions; and supporting domestic commercialization, entrepreneurship, and public policy to rally economic strength and global competitiveness," said Rajkumar.
Out of five National UTC grants awarded in 2023, Safety21 is the one national center with the theme of improving safety. UTC funding is authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.