Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) have outfitted a Volvo VHD 430 vocational model with highly specialized instrumentation to help evaluate the safety of highway surfaces in several U.S states.
The project, which begins this month, is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and will analyze continuous stretches of pavement to determine whether improving highway materials or design could reduce crashes.
VTTI is located only about 25 miles from Volvo’s New River Valley assembly plant in Dublin, Va., where VHD models are built.
W.D.M., a supplier of highway measurement technology, purchased the Volvo VHD 430 model in 2014 and shipped it to the UK for the necessary instrumentation, which required several months and included interior cab modifications as well as a special truck body. The VHD 430 model used for the VTTI project features an integrated powertrain with a Volvo D13 engine and a Volvo I-Shift automated manual transmission.
The data collection phase of the research project begins in Florida and will include testing of highways in Washington, Indiana and Texas. Researchers with VTTI’s Center for Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure will use the VHD 430 to measure pavements for friction and related safety characteristics, such as cross-slope, macro-texture, grade, temperature and curvature.
The Sideway-force Coefficient Routine Investigation Machine (SCRIM) includes a 2,000-gallon tank that feeds a 0.5 mm film of water for testing the friction of wet pavement surfaces while driving at speeds up to 50 mph. The vehicle can test 150 miles of highway on a single tank of water. Current vehicles used for such testing in the U.S. rely on smaller tanks that would cover just a fraction of that distance before needing to be refilled if they were to test at similar intervals.
The SCRIM uses a special tire to analyze road friction continuously without locking the tire as other testers do. Edgar de León Izeppi, senior research associate for VTTI’s Center for Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure, says this feature is important because continuous application gives a complete friction profile of the pavement surface and additionally simulates today’s antilock braking systems better than a locked-wheel skid tester, said
Continuous testing and more sophisticated instrumentation will provide more data on factors that are believed to be linked to the frictional properties of the pavement-tire interface, which should lead to improved highway safety, de León Izeppi said.
“If we can detect the problems we can find a way to solve them,” de León Izeppi says. “Most state highway agencies already maintain comprehensive databases on the types and locations of crashes, so by cross-referencing those databases with the detailed road assessments, we hope to be able to identify measures that could reduce crashes and save lives at locations that have a higher risk characterization.”