NCCAR sparks interest

Published 11:16 am Thursday, August 28, 2008

GARYSBURG – Though the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research (NCCAR) is yet to be constructed, the independent, non-profit center is already drawing interest and is now involved with its first commercial program.

NCCAR is teaming up with three other entities to develop technology aimed at increasing road safety by helping drivers avoid accidents, NCCAR Chief Operating Officer Simon Cobb announced on Wednesday.

The automotive research center will collaborate with North Carolina State University (NCSU), the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and Lotus Engineering for the program geared toward driver safety.

Cobb said the program is another example of NCCAR helping in the transition of high technology and how the center will benefit the area.

“This is the first commercial program. …The timing is perfect,” he said.

Northampton County Economic Development Commission Director Gary Brown said the program is an excellent example of the type of public and private sector collaboration the General Assembly envisioned in the development of the NCCAR project.

“It blends the research capacity of the state of North Carolina with other research institutes and product development interest of the private sector, particularly Lotus Engineering, in the pursuit of advanced automotive technology,” said Brown.

The overall objective of the program is to develop advanced warning systems that use modern sensor technology combined with new generation recognition and data prioritization protocols to help drivers avoid dangerous traffic conditions, such as unauthorized left turn onto busy roads or abnormal driving behavior.

The team will receive $395,068 in National Science Foundation GOALI funding over three years for the program.

The first phase of the program activities is slated to begin with senior design projects at NCSU and NJIT Electrical and Computer Engineering departments this fall. Their objective is to develop interactive software tools to form the foundation of time-critical data systems testing at NCCAR later in the program.

The program is inspired, in part, by the collaborators experience in the recent DARPA Urban Challenge, where vehicles navigated pre-determined routes autonomously.

Autonomous technology not only has the ability to increase driver safety, but has the potential to reduce fuel wastage and emissions.

“This research program is a great opportunity to use experience, skills and ingenuity to develop commercially valuable and socially responsible technologies that will benefit us all,” said Don Graunstadt, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lotus Engineering, Inc. “Lotus Engineering is delighted to be a part of this program with the tremendous capabilities of New Jersey Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University and the facilities of NCCAR.”

Recently, PLT Construction Company, Inc. of Wilson was awarded an $8.4 million contract to build phase one of NCCAR, which will include a 2.03-mile ride and handling course, internal road system, vehicle dynamics area, building pads for an Administration and Operations Building and Security Kiosk and associated vehicle and truck parking areas.