Kassas to Lead US Department of Transportation Center Focused on Securing Safety of Autonomous Vehicle Navigation

Aug. 25, 2020 - The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a nearly $2 million grant to a national research consortium that includes UC Irvine to establish a new Tier 1 University Transportation Center. The consortium, led by Ohio State University, will investigate and develop solutions to autonomous vehicle safety and security challenges.

The UTC’s researchers will focus on the security of positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) components associated with highly automated transportation systems. They aim to develop technology to combat GPS vulnerabilities such as attacks by hackers or unintentional signal interference, which can cause collisions and increase traffic congestion.

Autonomous vehicles rely on a continuous flow of information and data from GPS and other sensors. A precise and timely flow of location data is essential for short-range driving control and long-range navigation and planning.

“GPS is at the heart of virtually all vehicular navigation systems. Navigation system failure due to unintentional interference, intentional jamming, or malicious spoofing could have dangerous consequences,” said Samueli School’s Zak Kassas, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and electrical engineering and computer science, who will serve as principal investigator and center director. “As vehicles approach full autonomy with less humans in the loop, the vehicle navigation system’s accuracy, reliability and trustworthiness become ever more critical. We have assembled a superlative team of navigation and transportation experts to study this problem and offer concrete solutions.” 

In addition to Ohio State and UCI, the consortium includes University of Texas at Austin and University of Cincinnati. The UTC will be named CARMEN (Center for Automated Vehicles Research with Multimodal AssurEd Navigation) and research will occur at all four institutions. They will assess PNT threat scenarios and risks to highly automated transportation systems, develop mitigation strategies, and systemize standards and guidelines for cyber-resilient PNT systems. While research and testing will begin with ground-based vehicles, extensions could include aviation and waterway transportation.

The Department of Transportation UTC program, launched in 1988, received 67 grant applications this year and selected four new Tier 1 UTCs. Other UCI faculty involved in the research include Stephen Ritchie, professor and director of the UCI Institute of Transportation Studies, and Alfre Chen, assistant professor of computer science.

– Lori Brandt

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