Research Archive

Automation Research at the USDOT Research Progress and Insights

USDOT research aims to enable and accelerate the development and deployment of automated vehicles; ensure safe and efficient operations of emerging technologies and systems; and maximize public benefits by leveraging connected vehicle technologies, infrastructure-based solutions, and other approaches.

The USDOT’s Intelligent Transportation System Joint Program Office (ITS JPO) has established an automation program within the overall ITS program. As a first step, the program has developed a 2015-2019 Multimodal Program Plan for Vehicle Automation, a key component of the ITS JPO’s ITS Strategic Plan 2015-2019. The program plan establishes the vision, role, and goals, as well as a broad research roadmap for automation research at the USDOT.


The USDOT automation program will position industry and public agencies for the wide- scale deployment of partially automated vehicle systems that improve safety and mobility and reduce environmental impacts by the end of the decade.


The USDOT’s role in vehicle automation is to:

  • Facilitate development and deployment of automated transportation systems that enhance safety, mobility, and sustainability
  • Identify benefit opportunities in automated vehicle technology
  • Invest in research areas that further industry investments and support realization of benefit opportunities
  • Establish Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and infrastructure guidance.

Program Goals

The goals of the Department’s automation program are to:

  • Develop estimates of the potential benefits and disbenefits of automated vehicles
  • Evaluate and promote enabling technologies
  • Develop prototype applications
  • Identify needed standards and appropriate methods for development
  • Identify technical, policy, institutional, and regulatory barriers to deployment and possible solutions
  • Generate design guidelines for automated vehicles
  • Collaborate with a broad range of public and private stakeholders.

Program Organization

Three capability-based tracks form the program core, with cross-cutting activities such as policy research and international research exchange. The tracks focus on various levels of automation.



Representative Research Topics

Human-in-the- Loop Connected Driving Assistance           

Develop, test, and demonstrate applications

Cooperative adaptive cruise control, platooning, merge/weave assist, speed harmonization, and eco-approach/departure

Conditional Automation Safety Assurance

Conduct foundational research into systems that automate all control functions under certain conditions for limited amounts of time

Human factors, control system reliability, testing procedures, and cybersecurity

Limited Driverless
Vehicle Operations

Develop concepts, test and evaluate emerging prototypes

Exploratory research into first-mile/last-mile prototypes

Current Research

Human Factors Evaluation of Level 2 and Level 3 Automated Driving Concepts

There are critical research questions regarding driver transitions between automated and manual driving modes, such as how drivers perform over time when using these systems. This initial policy study, funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the ITS Joint Program Office, addresses human factors research questions focused on drivers transitioning into and out of automated driving states enabled by Level 2 and Level 3 automated driving concepts. The results support development of initial human factors driver-vehicle interface principles. Project partners include the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Battelle, Bishop Consulting, General Motors, Google, and the Southwest Research Institute.

Additional current research includes:

  • Introduction of Cooperative Vehicle-Highway Systems to Improve Speed Harmonization
  • Simulation for Research on Automated Longitudinal Vehicle Control
  • High Performance Vehicle Streams Simulation
  • Partial Automation for Truck Platooning: Port Authority Trans- Hudson Corporation/Caltrans
  • Partial Automation for Truck Platooning: Auburn University
  • Saxton Transportation Operations Laboratory Task 3: Procure and Instrument Research Vehicles
  • Development of a Platform Technology for Automated Vehicle Research
  • Vehicle Automation Program Management and Planning
  • Human Factors Evaluation of Level 2 and Level 3 Automated Driving Concepts
  • Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control – Investigation of Key Human Factors Issues
  • Development of Functional Descriptions and Test Methods for Emerging Automated Vehicle Applications
  • Transportation System Benefit Study of Highly Automated Vehicles
  • Lane Changing/Merge Foundational Research