Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute Unite Diverse Research Areas to Drive Autonomous Cars

Raghvendra Cowlagi, left, and Alexander Wyglinski, in the MITRE-WPI Collaboratory. Behind them is the wiring harness for a 2014 Chevy Impala, used for projects on autonomous vehicle security.

An aerospace engineer and an electrical and computer science engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are combining their work to find the key to developing self-driving cars that can operate safely and efficiently, even in complex city environments.

With a three-year, $425,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the two researchers are bringing together different areas of work—decision making for self-driving cars, and wireless communications—to create a network that will enable these vehicles to share information about everything from traffic flow to road conditions and accidents. By enabling cars to communicate and base their decisions and actions on the information they receive, the researchers believe they can make it possible for autonomous vehicles to more safely cruise on highways at 70 mph and navigate congested city streets, a feat that remains a challenge for today’s autonomous vehicles.

Raghvendra Cowlagi, assistant professor of aerospace engineering, the principal investigator for the project, focuses on self-driving cars, or vehicles that can operate using computer intelligence independent of a human driver. Alexander Wyglinski, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-PI on the project, is an expert in the wireless communications needed to give self-driving vehicles the awareness of their surroundings that will let them operate more safely. Though complementary, the two areas of research are not often combined, which the WPI researchers find can be problematic.

“There is a…

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