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It won’t be too long before cars can start talking to each other.

Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Design and Carnegie Mellon University are working on a collaborative effort to improve the future of transportation through an interdisciplinary research group known as the Consortium for Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation.

The U.S. Department of Transportation funded this faculty-led, student-based interdisciplinary research initiative with a grant of $6.9 million.

“Funding by the Department of Transportation is extremely competitive,” John Russell, University Transportation Center administrator, said in an email. “I believe we were selected due [to] Carnegie Mellon University’s current participation and success in UTC projects, and the transportation projects Penn’s faculty and students proposed during the application process.”

On Jan. 11, Penn professor and University Transportation Center Director Daniel Lee assisted in kick-starting the initiative at a symposium on campus.

Other Penn professors, including Rahul Mangharam, are working with small groups of engineering students to research various possibilities for improving road safety and auto technology.

Mangharam, a professor in electrical and systems engineering, explained that the focus of this project can be divided into three areas of research: technology within the vehicle, inter-vehicle safety and congestion management.

The first category of research looks at ways to improve in-car safety such as cruise control.

“In 2010, the automobile companies recalled 20.3 million vehicles that cost millions of dollars,” Mangharam said. “One of the reasons for this recall was bugs in the software. [Because of this research] we won’t have to recall millions of vehicles after a problem happens.”

A second area of research will focus on vehicle to vehicle improvements. Mangharam explained that this research will allow cars to communicate with each other, thereby limiting the number of accidents on the road.

“If the cars ahead can talk to your car, your safety bubble just expands,” Mangharam explained. “Now you have network active safety.”

Yash Vardhan Pant, a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering, has been working under the guidance of Mangharam for over a year now on this area of research. “Other than learning a lot about automotive hardware and software, I get to apply what we learn in courses and expand upon my theoretical knowledge,” Pant said in an email. “It is also a great opportunity to discuss my ideas with the best in academics as well as in the automotive industry and learn from them.”

The third area of research is traffic management. By improving on this, individual cars will be able to map the congestion throughout an entire region, thereby allowing a person to travel from point A to point B more quickly and without traffic.

Russell described an additional project led by Lee that hopes to prevent injuries by helping SEPTA buses identify pedestrian traffic.

In addition to such obvious benefits, Mangharam added there is a financial benefit to doing this research.

“There is a big financial gain in our research because this allows automobile companies to have better warranty management cost,” Mangharam said. “This is the future of transportation.”

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