Good data is the key to a successful future for automated vehicles in Iowa

Big dataThe Iowa Department of Transportation produces, collects, and disseminates a virtual mountain of data. From making road condition and traffic information available to the public through our 511 traveler information system to collecting roadway specific data for researchers and our own planning purposes, The Iowa DOT has long been recognized as a national leader in the amount, quality, and variety of data we can access.

Donna Matulac, the Iowa DOT’s automated vehicle (AV) technologies project manager, said, “To make AVs viable in Iowa, we are 100 percent focused on our data. We want to produce the best, most accurate information in a format that can be the most useful to both the drivers of today and the AVs coming online at a very quick pace.”

Types of informaion for vehicle automationShe continued, “The rise in technologies related to connected and AVs has caused us to look at the data we currently have and identify gaps that need to be filled in the coming years to keep Iowa in the forefront of data collection and utilization to support an increased level of vehicle automation.”

What is the AV technologies project?

In a nutshell, our AV technologies project is using data to find better ways to help people and freight move more efficiently and safely around our state. This effort ties directly to our focus on ways to improve how the transportation system operates.


Why is increasing automation in vehicles is a good thing?

Human ErrorSafety: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that 94 percent of vehicle crashes are due in some measure to human error and projects that 80 percent of these crashes could be mitigated or eliminated by the application of automation. AVs are expected to operate most effectively if such vehicles have access to high quality, continuously updated driving environment information. This information needs to stretch beyond what can be directly captured by onboard sensors.

Mobility: Mobility in Iowa is largely influenced by the rural nature of the state and the severe weather conditions that can impact travelers at any time of the year

Freight movement: Freight movement lies at the core of Iowa’s agricultural-based economy and is a key focal point for AV investments across the country. Matulac said, “In the near term, we think we can better utilize our data to help drivers get better information on traffic, weather, road conditions, available parking, and services to plan routes and make more informed decisions about how fast to drive, or what route to take.”

Farther into the future, automated trucks will help avoid crashes, particularly those related to driver fatigue, and make Iowa’s roads safer for everyone. Our AV technology project will engage with the trucking community to enhance freight movement and safety. Emphasis on freight movement will:

  • Help move freight more efficiently and reliably.
  • Help establish Iowa as a key intermodal freight mobility hub where shipments can easily be transferred from one transportation mode to another (i.e. rail to truck).
  • Support Iowa’s key freight partnerships and bring these companies to the table to participate in pilot projects. 

How will the infrastructure need to change for AVs?

Would it surprise you to learn that almost all vehicles on the road today have some sort of “smart vehicle” automation? From the basic anti-lock brakes and cruise control to the more sophisticated functions of self-parking and lane departure warning, automation is being introduced slowly over time into the majority of vehicles on our roads.


Just having smart vehicles won’t be enough. Transportation agencies are going to need to look at their own process and products and how they can be integrated into the world of AVs.

Matulac said, “That’s why we’re looking at things like connected traffic signal solutions, lane closures, weather notifications, work zones, and traffic queue/backup detection as places to start. These are just a few examples of Iowa DOT's functions that must be automated and closely monitored to enable safe AV operation. Our vision is that most functions related to operating and maintaining roads would need to be automated to effectively communicate conditions in real time with AVs.”

What is happening with the project right now?

AV corridor – interstates 80 and 380 from Cedar Rapids through Iowa City: We can’t tackle the entire transportation system at once. For us, we decided to start our focus on AV by completing a high-definition digital mapping project of I-380 from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City, including some of I-80 around the Iowa City areas.

AV Project Details

“Working with HERE North America, we’ve spent the last few years getting a high-definition digital mapping structure in place,” said Matulac. “Now we’re testing the data using a hands-free mobile app developed by HERE. This public pilot project included about 400 participants that used the app regularly over a five-week period and provided feedback on the usefulness and accuracy of the data.”

The first part of the pilot project is designed to show if the data we’re producing is useful and accurate to people. Matulac said, “We’re not going to be in the business of producing traveler information products in the future. What we’re going to be able to provide is high-quality, high-accuracy data that can be used by third-party providers, including those developing automated technology, to help people and vehicles make smarter, safer travel decisions.”

The first part of the I-380 project was to provide information to people; the second phase will test data provided to vehicles. The third phase will be to run a vehicle that will run partially using AV control on predetermined routes. The development of this phase is already underway and testing will be done this summer.  

Matulac said, “Many vehicles on the road already have in-dash navigation systems. We’re looking at how our data can be integrated into these existing systems to provide real-time information on things like work zones and incidents that might disrupt traffic. We’re still getting the information to the driver, but we’re doing it through the vehicle’s built-in systems.”

U of I study phases

We’re always looking ahead. To see more about the vision of the AV project, go to

Good read. I'm glad to see Iowa being proactive on the AV front. Weather seems to be one issue that the auto industry is aware of, but more needs to be done. It is honestly one of my major concerns to adoption. Here's an interesting article by the good people at Battelle.'t-cooperate

I'm hoping more research comes out before I make my decision to go driverless.

I would like to participate in this type of project in some way shape or form so i can be giving honest and real feedback.. I think that I would be able to give a different type of feedback as I myself am continuously having student drivers and i think the student or young drivers are who we shld be testing this with

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