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USF professor creates self-driving vehicle

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A University of South Florida professor is rethinking conventional transportation methods. His solution? Self-driving cars!  

Assistant Professor Shaw Li with the university’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is also head of the Connected and Autonomous Transportation Systems Lab. He has built two autonomous vehicles – a 2016 and 2017 Lincoln MKZ.  

“There was an opportunity for a grant at the university and we thought we already had so many ideas and research outcomes, we wanted to have a testbed to validate them,” said Li.  

The grant, funded by the National Science Foundation, has afforded Li and his team the opportunity to create a technology he hopes will cut down on vehicle-related fatalities, reduce traffic congestion and lower carbon emission. 

“If we can advance this technology to a certain level, we hope to achieve a zero-fatality goal. Also, mobility, autonomous vehicles may drive in smarter ways. They can route themselves smarter and they can control their speed smarter,” said Li.  

So how does it all work? 

“It just works like replacing human drivers with computers,” said Li. “Sensors installed on top, in and around the vehicle can see the environment and can identify objects, people and vehicles. The computer can utilize that information and decide what actions to take.” 

The autonomous car is made up of several other components including a high-performance computer installed in its trunk which Li says “performs like our brains to make decisions.”

Li explains his cars are different from other commercial autonomous vehicles that are currently on the market.

“It has dimensions of connectivity. We can communicate with infrastructure like traffic signals, it can communicate with other vehicles and can be better controlled in the stream of traffic.” 

The autonomous car project began in 2018. It took nearly six months for Li and his team to complete a prototype. Li believes at least one of their vehicles is road-ready. 

“This vehicle has already been demonstrated at public roads and testbeds. We have demonstrated this to stakeholders like U.S. DOT officers (U.S. Department of Transportation) and local legislators,” said Li.  


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