Alexandria "Alli" Rossi-Alvarez, a doctoral student in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech conducting research at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), has been a driving force behind pedestrian-related research at the institute through her analysis of external lighting patterns for vehicle-to-pedestrian communication.

She has been named a University Transportation Center (UTC) Student of the Year.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Transportation honors outstanding students from participating transportation centers for their achievements and promise for future contributions to the transportation field at the annual awards banquet of the Council of University Transportation Centers. Students are selected based on their accomplishments in such areas as technical merit and research, academic performance, professionalism, and leadership.

“Alli is very deserving of the UTC Student of the Year Award and is currently conducting her second UTC project investigating external communication and pedestrians,” said Charlie Klauer, VTTI lead for the training systems group, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, and graduate advisor to Rossi-Alvarez. “Pedestrian fatalities are climbing, and we need to better understand the communication that occurs or does not occur between pedestrians and road users as well as how this communication may potentially occur for vehicles where there is no driver. Alli’s dissertation research will advance our understanding of vulnerable road user and Society of Automotive Engineering Level 4 vehicle interactions, which should improve pedestrian safety now and into the future.”

Rossi-Alvarez’s research examines external communication technologies that can assist with helping vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, etc.) understand the vehicle’s intentions. By researching pedestrian decision-making, she is working to understand how different forms of external communication on vehicles can affect pedestrian safety when sharing the roadway with Level 4-capable vehicles. While external communication technologies come in a variety of outlets, such as auditory cues, lighting patterns, or text displays, her research uses light bars that can signal messages through various lighting and oscillating patterns.

Her research also sparked a partnership between Pedestrian Safety Solutions LLC that utilizes an LED-lighting system called Auto Motion Alert that is outfitted on the front of a vehicle to help alert pedestrians and other road users on how fast and what direction the vehicle is traveling. Both Paul Schaye, founder of Pedestrian Safety Solutions, and Rossi-Alvarez have been affected by roadway crashes and hope their research will help prevent further pedestrian fatalities.

Also, as the primary investigator on the Allusion 2 project, Rossi-Alvarez examines how integrating highly automated vehicles into the environment impacts communication between mixed fleets, made up of human drivers and automated vehicles who must effectively communicate with each other. With the Allusion 2 project, research conducted on the VTTI Smart Road Surface Street assesses pedestrian and driver decision-making in the presence of highly automated vehicles with external communication displays.

In the award-winning project called PREAPRES, Rossi-Alvarez worked with VTTI Transportation Researcher Adam Novotny to develop a technology for injury reduction that works to alert a driver of an impending rear-end crash. Led by Rossi-Alvarez, the project won the title for the North American Region in the Student Safety Technology Design Competitions of the Enhanced Safety Vehicles International Technical Conference in April 2019.

“When I was a student, I had the pleasure of working on a research team with Alli where we developed and evaluated a novel vehicle safety system. Throughout the project Alli was a key team leader — very organized and extremely hard-working — which ultimately contributed to winning the Student Safety Technology Design Competition of the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles International Technical Conference,” said Novotny, who was the 2020 UTC Student of the Year. “I am looking forward to seeing how her research positively impacts pedestrian safety. Despite all her success, Alli is a very kind and humble person, and above everything else, she is a great person to work with. I can’t think of anyone else more deserving of this award than her.”

“I am honored to be on the recipients of the UTC Student of the Year award,” said Rossi-Alvarez. “I am very thankful for my family, friends, and my advisor, Charlie Klauer, for guidance and support throughout my doctoral program. I am excited to be conducting research in such an important area and making transportation safer for vulnerable road users.”

More on the award and other recipients can be found online.

Share this story