By  Charlie Feigenoff

Imagine the highway of the future. Automated cars move swiftly down the road like a motorized school of fish, in constant wireless communication with each other. If one car perceives an obstacle on the road, it relays its evasive action to the other vehicles, giving them all time to respond appropriately. If this sounds like the stuff of science fiction, that's because it is — at least right now. Anyone who has had a cellphone conversation in a car knows about dropped calls. In a tightly packed pod of autonomous vehicles traveling at high speed, being out of touch for even for a fraction of a second could be catastrophic. A team of faculty from UVA Engineering's Link Lab, includingCody Fleming, assistant professor of engineering systems and environment, is developing a system that assures every autonomous vehicle in a group will always be optimally positioned to maximize safety and minimize communication loss. In effect, their goal is to turn fiction into reality. The National Science Foundation determined the team's approach is promising enough that it provided an $800,000 grant to develop a prototype system. Fleming's collaborators areKamin Whitehouse, Commonwealth Associate Professor of Computer Science, andLu Feng, an assistant professor with joint appointments in computer science and engineering systems and environment. “This is admittedly an ambitious undertaking,” Fleming said. “But the ability to connect autonomous vehicles wirelessly would yield tremendous gains in fuel efficiency and road capacity.”