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Final draft proves a winner for civil engineer at ITS America competition

Chris Fitzpatrick poses with his award on a balcony overlooking Roberto Clemente Bridge and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Chris Fitzpatrick, a graduate civil engineering student, won the ITS America essay contest, with his piece, “Enhancing Commercial Vehicle Safety and Emissions Reduction by the use of Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication in Tractor-Trailer Platoons.” For that, he earned $1,500, an expenses-paid trip to the ITS America Annual Meeting and Exposition in Pittsburgh and the opportunity to present his essay during the exposition. Photo courtesy of Chris Fitzpatrick.

Chris Fitzpatrick was so dissatisfied with certain aspects of his essay that he nearly didn’t turn it in to the Intelligent Transportation Society America Student Essay Competition. Fortunately, he fought that urge, because his essay won the competition.

Fitzpatrick, a graduate civil engineering student, won the ITS America essay contest, with his piece, “Enhancing Commercial Vehicle Safety and Emissions Reduction by the use of Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication in Tractor-Trailer Platoons.” For that, he earned $1,500, an expenses-paid trip to the ITS America Annual Meeting and Exposition in Pittsburgh and the opportunity to present his essay during the exposition.

“Just being a perfectionist, I was never really happy with the paper. When it came time to submit it, I was up until 4 a.m.” Fitzpatrick said. “Finally, it just came to the point where this is it, have to submit it.”

Tractor trailer platooning, according to Fitzpatrick’s paper, “is the concept of two or more tractor-trailers autonomously coupled together wirelessly using CV2V [commercial vehicle-to-vehicle] communications.” His paper put forward the idea that commercial, driverless vehicles can be the best solution for transporting goods in the safest, most cost-efficient and most environmentally sustainable manner possible.

Fitzpatrick outlined how the platoons can use on-board devices to adjust their routes in case of severe traffic congestion and how remote drivers can use technology to safely operate the platoon’s trucks. He also showed how the system will benefit companies and the public in terms of increased roadway safety, limited potential for human error and the cost-effectiveness in terms of fuel savings.

“It started with being in [the course] ‘Intelligent Transportation Systems 8106,’” Fitzpatrick said. “We had a semester project that started with a literature review of technologies that would help benefit society. We could do anything technological in transportation. It was completely up to us what we wanted to choose [for class]. ITSA had some guidelines — either something with big data or something in the near future applicable to society.

“I found a couple of articles on commercial vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and I kept expanding on it.”

Fitzpatrick, as expected, was thrilled upon receiving word of his win. He said before heading to Pittsburgh, he was excited to present and to get the chance to network with vendors as well as getting a closer look at existing autonomous driving vehicle technology.

“I was sitting in the lab, and I thought it was one of those spam emails because it just said ‘congratulations’ on it,” he said. “I was reading, and I was like, ‘There’s no way,’ knowing the competition out there and going against other students and this being my first semester. I kept reading, and it was my title, and I got pretty excited.”