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Exploratory Advanced Research Overview


Research Associate Stays Productive While Working from Home

The Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program funds and manages a Research Associateship Program for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This program provides high-quality, post-doctoral research associates to FHWA offices. Dr. Seyedehsan Dadvar is an example of one such productive research associate. He presented at an Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE)-sponsored webinar titled, “Guidance for Crash Modification Factors (CMFs) Selection and Application,” on May 5, 2020. Dr. Dadvar presented on CMFs, which can be used to measure the effectiveness of roadway safety treatments. He is scheduled to present at another ITE-sponsored webinar in August 2020 titled, “ITE Safety Fundamentals Webinar Series: Basic Statistics – Predictive Methodology.” Dr. Dadvar works with the FHWA Office of Safety Research and Development under the guidance of his research adviser Dr. Clayton Chen.

EAR Program Exploring Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Technology

The EAR Program is exploring the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning technology within the surface transportation sector. By working with universities, industry, and Government conducting cutting-edge research in these fields, FHWA ultimately seeks to make surface transportation safer and more efficient. To learn about how the EAR Program is supporting research in these areas, read the brochure The Role of Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning in Federally Supported Surface Transportation Initiatives.

The EAR Program also has funded three new computer vision research projects: Deep InSight: Deep Extraction of Driver State from Naturalistic Driving Dataset; Video Analytics for Automatic Annotation of Driver Behavior and Driving Situations in Naturalistic Driving Data; and Automated Video Processing Algorithms to Detect and Classify High-Level Behaviors with Speed and Accuracy.

EAR Program Supports Developing Alternative Materials for Transportation Infrastructure

Concrete, one of the main materials used in sidewalks, roads, and other transportation structures, consists of a mixture of cement, water, sand, and stones. When cement is mixed with water, it acts like a binder to hold together all the sand and stones that make up concrete. However, producing ordinary Portland cement—the type of cement most often used—can be energy intensive because cement manufacturing requires high heat. To address this concern, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed “cement-free” inorganic polymer binders (IPBs) for producing concrete. They studied how IPBs made from fly ash, an industrial byproduct that comes from coal-fed power plants, can completely replace the Portland-cement binders currently used to make concrete. With research partners at the University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Texas at Austin, and Boral Materials, along with support from FHWA's EAR Program, the UCLA researchers defined fly ash’s characteristics at the atomic level so that they could understand how those characteristics influenced binder behavior during concrete production. To learn more about the study, read the fact sheet Inorganic Polymers: Novel Ordinary Portland Cement-Free Binders for Transportation Infrastructure.

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.

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.


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.

To learn more about this program, visit the NRC Associates page. For more information about research being conducted by NRC Associates, go to Ongoing Research.