A group of Virginia Tech engineering graduate students won the international championship for the 2019 Collegiate Student Safety Technology Design Competition (SSTDC), hosted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the Netherlands, June 10-13.

A panel of judges of vehicle safety engineering experts from around the world awarded the students for their rear-end collision safety feature, called PREPARES. When an imminent collision is detected via an algorithm, PREPARES beeps and flashes a bright light across the top of the windshield as a warning to the driver and passengers. The alert prompts vehicle occupants to involuntarily sit upright and face forward in the seconds prior to impact, reducing the severity of whiplash and other soft tissue injuries. Learn more about PREPARES and how it works.

“As a team, we are truly proud not only to have won the competition, but also that so many people that we spoke with throughout the conference thought that our PREPARES system, a system that we only started to develop in October as a group of students, could really have a positive impact on improving transportation safety,” said Adam Novotny, a graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics (BEAM). “All of the student teams in the competition were extremely passionate about vehicle safety, which I think is a great sign for the future of transportation, as we will only continue to learn how to develop innovative technologies to address transportation challenges.”

Competition attendees, including vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, federal safety regulators, and other industry experts, praised the technology for its extraordinary safety potential, according to Zachary Doerzaph, director of VTTI’s Center for Advanced Automotive Systems and the team’s faculty advisor. He is also a BEAM associate professor.

“I am extraordinarily proud of the PREPARES Team. Formal recognition of our innovation demonstrates the incredible potential of multidisciplinary classroom environments and self-empowered student teamwork," said Doerzaph. "These students extended learning well outside of the classroom environment, rolled up their sleeves, and created something truly unique with the potential to make a real difference in the world. This is a fantastic embodiment of Ut Prosim and an extraordinary motivation for me as an instructor.”  

SSTDC is held during the International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles, the only government-sponsored vehicle safety conference that brings together leading engineering experts from governments, automobile manufacturers, suppliers, safety researchers, and other motor vehicle safety professionals. The competition strives to encourage more students to get involved in vehicle safety.

Although the PREPARES team members have achieved the highest student honor for their safety feature, their work continues. The students have obtained a provisional patent for their technology and plan to continue refining the system’s sensing techniques, threat assessment algorithm, and driver interface.

“While results are positive, we believe further refinement of PREPARES will increase effectiveness and broaden the applicable use cases such that all occupants of the vehicle will receive safety benefits - both near term and well into the future as automated vehicles enable a myriad of new occupant seating opportunities,” explained Doerzaph.

“Our team is excited to further improve our system and hope that this project will motivate us to continue to perform meaningful research in our many different fields, all with the hope that we can make the roads just a little bit safer,” said Novotny.

The team is actively seeking partners to help develop PREPARES into a fully validated production safety system. Interested parties should contact Doerzaph at Zac@vtti.vt.edu or 540-231-1046.

The project was funded in part by the Safety through Disruption (Safe-D) National UTC, a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers Program.

PREPARES Team Members:

·       Zachary Doerzaph, faculty advisor.

·       Alexis Basantis: Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics (BEAM).

·       Eric Bloomquist: Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE).

·       Phillip Grambo: Mechanical Engineering (ME).

·       Richard Greatbatch: ISE.

·       Samantha Haus: BEAM.

·       Adam Novotny: BEAM.

·       Luke Riexinger: BEAM.

·       Alexandria Rossi-Alvarez: (ISE).

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