From the editor:

Rubber meets the road

Jan. 17, 2017

When will I see the road again? I mean, this stretch of bitterly cold, snowy weather makes me exhausted. Even the short drive to work is treacherous as the roads are covered in ice and snow. We had a quick reprieve last week when, surprisingly, the temperature shot up to 57 degrees – just long enough to melt things into a slushy mess. And then, on Old Man Winter’s cue, the temps plummeted again turning the roads, once again, into ice rinks.

Luckily, this week’s road trips have been a lot better than they were earlier this winter. I finally got new tires on my little car which is like driving bambi on icea completely different vehicle. I have low profile tires to start with, but until last week, they were soft, summer tires – not exactly what you want on these roads. I honestly felt like I was just hovering across the road with zero traction. I was always super careful and usually the slowest car on the road, but seriously, my poor little car was basically like Bambi.

I consider myself a pretty experienced driver. I’ve been behind the wheel of every kind of vehicle, including high-powered sports cars, compacts, SUVs, sedans, pickup trucks and even a 15-passenger van (complete with beeping backup warning) across the plains of Iowa. I prefer a manual transmission and some get-up-and-go from my engine. I actually love the feeling hitting the road and shifting through the turns.

That said, I also appreciate the advances in car technology, including work on autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicle research doesn’t strictly mean “self-driving cars.” It involves a bunch of cool technology that makes cars more connected to their surroundings and sensors that can warn of dangers, making the road ahead a lot safer for all of us.

Researchers at MSU are working toward this goal by perfecting computer vision and "superhuman” sensing. Spartans working at MSU’s Connected and Autonomous Networked Vehicles for Active Safety are at the forefront of problem-solving technologies that can absolutely make the road ahead a lot safer. Check out the MSUTODAY FEATURE: A vision for smarter, safer autonomous vehicles, to learn more about the work they’re doing.

John Verboncoeur is the associate dean for research in the College of Engineering and someone who knows a lot about the dedication Spartans have in this field. He’s been in Detroit this week at the North American International Auto Show with MSU’s research vehicle – parked next to a similar car from the University of Michigan. (We may be rivals on the field, but we work all the time as collaborators toward economic prosperity in the state.) Check out his FACULTY VOICE: Driving our future, to learn more about how MSU’s multi-disciplinary efforts can enhance the future.

Maps are certainly a big part of driving in unfamiliar territory. They used to be on paper but now we simply pull them up on our phones. That technology has certainly saved me from getting lost throughout the years. (And even helped find an incredible pizza place in the middle of Tanzania.)

MSU doctoral students Biyi Fang and Yuan Liang are working toward making satellite maps and object recognition much better in the future. They’re able to work toward solutions through their work at the Institute for Cyber-Enable Research at MSU. Check out the STUDENT VIEW: Improving satellite maps, to learn more about their research.

According to the forecast, clear roads might be on the horizon. I certainly hope so. Even with my new tires, I’d prefer a scenario where the rubber actually meets the road instead of ice. But, even if the road ahead is bumpy, Spartans always find a way to follow their paths and get the job done. And, no matter what kind of cars we end up driving in the future, they’ll be a whole lot safer thanks to some serious Spartan innovation. Spartans Will.

Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday
twitter bird@LMulcrone

Photo by Derrick L. Turner