2020 Broad Agency Announcement
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program plans to issue a Broad Agency Announcement soliciting proposals in three topics that could lead to transformational changes and truly revolutionary advances in highway engineering and intermodal surface transportation in the United States. Topic 1 is blockchain technology for highway transportation. Topic 2 is artificial intelligence for highway transportation. Topic 3 is compatibilization of waste plastic to enhance mechanical properties of asphalt cement. Click here for more information.
Cultivating Materials Science Research
To combat the wear and tear that bridges and highways face, researchers are keen to explore how to build structures that are more durable and longer lasting. One way to approach this problem is through materials science. Materials science is a multidisciplinary approach to the scientific study of the production and use of materials through the lenses of chemistry, physics, and engineering.
FHWA's EAR Program actively supports research in materials science to address the health of U.S. highway structures and pavements and to provide a greater range of predictable materials for construction and repair of bridges and pavements. For the EAR Program, agency support and funding have focused on developing highway materials that not only emphasize enhanced functionality but also stress sustainability and cost savings.
The EAR Program recently awarded research funding for four new projects related to supplementary materials for highway pavements and structures. Three of the awards focus on different aspects of supplementary cementitious materials that could provide State DOTs with more reliable options of materials when designing and building roadways and structures. Awards went to Purdue University to examine the use of nontraditional and natural pozzolan-based materials or inorganic polymers; Oklahoma State University to develop classification methods for reclaimed fly ash; and the University of California, Los Angeles, to use machine learning methods to predict and optimize the performance of fly ash-containing binders in concrete. The fourth award went to researchers at Auburn University who are focusing on reducing the aging of asphalt binders so roadways last longer.
To learn more about the EAR Program's support for materials science research, read the brochure Cultivating Materials Science Research to Benefit Surface Transportation Initiatives, the fact sheet Inorganic Polymers: Novel Ordinary Portland Cement-Free Binders for Transportation Infrastructure, and the summary report Mechanisms of Hydration and Setting of Ordinary Portland Cement in Simple and Complex Systems.
National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes Solicits Proposals
FHWA's EAR Program, Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office, and Operations Research and Development Office have been coordinating with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to include surface transportation as part of a new program solicitation for the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes. NSF plans to fund AI Research Institutes up to $4 million annually for up to 5 years and provide grants worth $500,000. This solicitation includes a planning track and an institutes track. Proposals for the institutes track must have a principal focus on one or more of six themes. One theme is Trustworthy AI, which is a critical element of connected and automated vehicle systems and of AI systems that support human decisionmaking for highway policy, planning, or operational uses. The solicitation seeks use-inspired research that advances foundational learning while solving real-world use cases. More information about the solicitation and proposal due dates can be found here.
Report Examines How Breakthroughs Emerge from Long-Term, High-Risk Research
A report titled Back-Casting Breakthrough Research in the Transportation Sector presents a historical analysis of breakthrough research in highway transportation on behalf of FHWA's EAR Program. The report provides a better understanding of how transportation-related breakthroughs emerge from long-term, high-risk research so that the EAR Program and other research and development programs can hone their assessments of potential impacts from the selection of topics to the transitioning of Program results through applied research. The results from this exercise could assist in setting realistic expectations about the time and paths from scientific and technology breakthroughs to implementation.
The report draws four conclusions. First, research breakthroughs require an environment of sustained public-sector support for research. Second, breakthrough research outcomes offer solutions to vexing transportation problems and clear benefits for end users. Third, research breakthroughs build on and combine related technological developments across multiple disciplines or by combined expertise across fields. Fourth, breakthroughs require iterative experimental studies and pilot deployments to help ensure widespread acceptance. For more information, read the full report here.
EAR Program Marks 10 Years of Research Results
FHWA's EAR Program published the EAR Program Research Results catalog, which was updated to include summary descriptions of research results through 2018. The catalog's publication marks the 10th anniversary of the EAR Program providing research results. The EAR Program addresses longer term, higher risk breakthrough research with the potential for improving the planning, building, renewing, and operating of safe, congestion-free, and environmentally sound transportation facilities.
Technology Readiness Level Guidebook Released
A publication by the EAR Program helps those working in transportation research conduct an evaluation to determine the maturity of a technology and identify the next steps in the research process. The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Guidebook explains what a TRL is and how to prepare for, conduct, and use the results of TRL assessments. [more]
Read the full text of the TRL Guidebook.
NRC Postdoctoral Fellows Help EAR Program Solve Transportation Issues
The Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) conducts research across a wide range of topics and disciplines. To supplement the expertise of the permanent staff, it is important to bring in researchers with the appropriate backgrounds to investigate specific problems at short-term basis. Through the EAR Program, FHWA utilizes the Resident Associateship (or Postdoctoral Fellows) Program of the National Research Council (NRC) for this purpose. The NRC provides a process for selecting candidates on a competitive merit basis and subsequently for administration of the Resident Fellows during their tenures at FHWA.
Is It Possible for a Bridge to "Feel" Changes in Loading Caused by Traffic or the Environment and Respond by Redistributing Loads Throughout the Structure?
Answering this intriguing question is the goal of research supported by the EAR Program. The project, "Self-Sensing Adaptive Material for a New Generation of Multifunctional Bridge-Bearing Systems," is part of a 3-year EAR Program-funded inquiry into developing responsive smart materials for bridge components. The University of Nevada, Reno, is conducting the research under the EAR Program. Click here for more information.