Traffic along Davie Blvd. while waiting for the drawbridge

VOICES Platform to Catalyze Collaborative Research on Automotive Technology

By Bradley Hague , Marlis McCollum

Collaborative research is key to ensuring the innovative technology in our cars, traffic signals, and smart infrastructure work effectively—and in harmony—to support roadway safety. The DOT and MITRE have teamed up to make that collaboration faster, easier, and more effective.

Technological innovation is transforming automotive transportation at record speed. Sensors and automated mechanisms in our vehicles may already activate our brakes to avoid rear-end collisions and issue alerts if we wander across a lane divider. And soon our cars will routinely communicate with city infrastructure, stop lights, surrounding vehicles, and more.

Given the increasing automation and interconnectivity of our intelligent surface transportation systems, the need for collaborative research on those systems—before they’re implemented on our roadways—is also increasing.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and MITRE are working together to make that collaboration easier and more effective.

That’s the idea behind the DOT’s prototype Virtual Open Innovation Collaborative Environment for Safety (VOICES) platform, which the DOT selected MITRE to operate. 

The VOICES platform was created to provide a secure, scalable, and cost-efficient way to explore novel surface transportation concepts. It’s meant to let automakers simulate how new automotive tools and safety features interact with other transportation technology and the environment in a safe and secure digital space. 

“We’re heading into an info-centric world where vehicles will communicate with each other and their environment,” says Kerry Buckley, Ph.D., vice president and director of MITRE’s Center for Integrated Transportation. “Whether it’s a new type of driver assistance system or technology to let cars communicate with city infrastructure, it’s vital to know how automotive systems will interact before they hit the road. VOICES will help us understand that.” 

“The intention behind VOICES was to enable transportation stakeholders—innovators, regulators, automobile manufacturers, and others—to collaborate and combine their capabilities to create solutions they wouldn’t be able to achieve on their own,” says MITRE VOICES technical lead Kevin Long.

The intention is to enable stakeholders to collaborate to create solutions they wouldn’t be able to achieve on their own.

Kevin Long, VOICES Technical Lead

MITRE Evolves VOICES Platform to Enable Wider Access at Low Cost

One of the reasons the DOT selected MITRE to operate VOICES was our not-for-profit, conflict-free status, enabling us to serve as an independent third party to government and industry partners. Another was our technical capability to evolve the prototype VOICES platform in ways that make it even more accessible for both government and nongovernment users. We recently achieved a key milestone toward that goal.

“We collaborated with the transportation safety research community to create what we’re calling a minimally viable product (MVP) portal and platform,” Long says. “Whereas the earlier VOICES efforts used a more traditional network—requiring users to obtain and configure similar hardware to achieve interoperability—this latest version uses cloud-hosted infrastructure to make the process almost as easy as joining a Zoom call.”

“We’ve designed the system to be turnkey,” he adds. “It’s completely automated to enable a user of the platform to easily spin up the environment, set up their use case, and get connected to other organizations.”

Demonstration Event Proves VOICES’ Ability to Enhance Collaborative Research

A recent demonstration of the MVP version of the VOICES platform proved its efficacy.

The use case selected for the demo involved the interactions of a traffic signal, a traffic signal controller, and an autonomous vehicle as a pedestrian prepared to cross an intersection. Four organizations participated, all joining the session remotely from locations in different parts of the country.

“One participant provided the autonomous vehicle. Another provided the traffic signal controller and the traffic signal. MITRE provided the virtual pedestrian, and the DOT served as an observer,” Long explains.

“We were able to show, in a simulated environment, how the different technologies communicated with each other, such as the automated car slowing down as the traffic signal turned yellow, and the pedestrian ‘walk’ sign coming on after the light had turned red and the car was stopped,” he says. 

“The participants could see the data exchange as it occurred, and there was no perceived latency, so it was fast. It was efficient. It was a perfect execution of the MVP platform.”

Up Next, Broader Participation and Testing

However, the MVP is “just the beginning,” says Michelle Michelini, who is heading up the effort to further evolve the VOICES platform. 

“In the next phase, we’ll be building on the success of the MVP demonstration event by onboarding a larger set of users to the platform.” MITRE is working with representatives from government, industry, and academia to identify that next set of users as well as new use cases.

“Our goal is to position the platform for widespread use to catalyze improvements in surface transportation technologies,” Michelini says. 

“By making collaboration faster, easier, and more efficient for a broader set of users, VOICES has the power to transform surface transportation. We’re eager to work with an expanded group of cross-sector collaborators toward that objective.”

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