Craig Shankwitz, a nationally recognized leader in the field of autonomous and connected vehicle technologies, recently joined the research staff of Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute.
Autonomous vehicles, sometimes called self-driving vehicles, have technologies that allow certain functions of a vehicle to operate without driver input. Connected vehicles include technologies that allow vehicles to communicate with the driver, with other vehicles on the road or with roadside infrastructure.
Shankwitz will lead the development of a WTI research team that will explore and develop applications of autonomous and connected vehicle technologies to roads and transportation systems in rural areas and small cities, in both the public and private sector.
“Craig has led some cutting-edge projects on how driver-assistance technologies and other systems can address safety challenges such as lane departure, low visibility, speeding, seatbelt usage and even alcohol impairment,” said Steve Albert, WTI director. “He is coming here because these are critical issues in rural America, and his expertise will be instrumental in investigating how these new technologies can be adapted to states with smaller towns and large rural road networks.”
For example, Shankwitz has developed, tested, evaluated and deployed numerous driver-assistance systems that help snowplow operators and bus drivers know where they are on the road and stay in their lanes, even if they can’t see the road due to poor visibility or accumulated snow.
“A system like this would have life-saving implications in a state like Montana,” Albert said. “One of these systems was used to rescue stranded motorists and a highway patrolman in Minnesota in February.”
Shankwitz was an opening speaker and session leader at an MSU workshop in April that focused on research opportunities in the field of autonomous and connected vehicles. Nearly 50 MSU faculty, state and local transportation officials and private sector representatives met to share ideas on how to match the technical strengths of MSU to current and emerging research opportunities.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation and leading private sector firms like Google, Apple and Uber are investing billions in connected vehicles research and development,” said Shankwitz. “We are looking at a potential revolution in ground transportation.”
At the April workshop, MSU faculty and researchers from the College of Engineering, Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and disciplines ranging from computer science to psychology generated numerous ideas on how connected and autonomous vehicle technology might serve the needs of older or disabled drivers, rural transit systems, emergency response and campus transportation. Shankwitz and Albert said they are eager to begin collaborating with these participants and other stakeholders on some key areas of research.
“Most of the early work with these technologies has focused on testing driverless cars on urban roads on clear days in California,” Shankwitz explained. “But does anyone know if they will work when you get them on a remote, snow-covered road in Montana?”
Shankwitz holds a doctorate in electrical engineering in the area of control theory and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering. He has served as a principal research and development engineer at MTS Systems Corporation and is also the former director of the University of Minnesota Intelligent Vehicles Laboratory. He presently serves as the vice-chairman of the Society of Automotive Engineers Truck and Bus Active Safety Systems committee. He holds seven patents, with two pending.