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Driving Toward an Automated Future, Together

Their mutual research interest in automotive control brought them together 20 years ago at Istanbul Technical University. Now, Bilin Aksun-Guvenc and Levent Guvenc are a husband-wife research powerhouse at The Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR), where their work in the rapidly evolving field of automated driving is receiving international attention.

The duo came to Ohio State from Turkey in 2014 after building a research program deemed a Center of Excellence in Automotive Control through the European Union’s framework research program. The U.S. is the world leader in deploying connected and automated driving technology—a distinction that enables the Guvencs to quickly see the outcomes of their research. “Autonomous vehicles are going to happen in the U.S. much earlier than anywhere else, which means we can actually put our work in the lab into practice. You can see the outcome on the roads,” says Levent, director of CAR’s Automated Driving Lab.

Levent was no stranger to Ohio State. He got his PhD in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1992—and though CAR had been founded the year before, automated vehicles were still mostly science fiction. “There was nothing happening in this area at that time,” says Levent, whose PhD research focused on automating robots to polish dies and molds.

Ford FusionThis Ford Fusion is one of the autonomous vehicles the husband-wife team works on. Today, research on autonomous vehicles is thriving at Ohio State, one of just a handful of institutions offering a wide range of possibilities for students in automotive engineering. Bilin and Levent strengthen the program even more. Their work in automotive control and mechatronics, advanced driver assistance systems, connected and automated driving, and pedestrian collision avoidance has drawn external funding from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Transportation the automotive industry and others. Their programs have attracted more than a dozen graduate students to Ohio State who are eager to do research with them.

One of their favorite things about Ohio State and CAR? Being able to test their hardware-in-the-loop simulatorThe hardware-in-the-loop simulator allows researchers to change the vehicle and environment conditions in real time before going to field in CAR’s connected and automated driving hardware-in-the-loop simulator. “The hardware-in-the-loop simulator gives an advantage to our working group,” says Levent, “letting us change the vehicle and environment conditions in real time before going to field tests. We can easily go back to the beginning and start again—and it’s just downstairs from our offices.”

In 2016, the Guvencs’ work in automated driving helped Columbus beat out 77 cities nationwide to win a $50 million Smart City Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Vulcan, Inc. They are also working on a Global Cities Technical Challenge “Smart Shuttle” project, which enables pedestrians to summon on-demand low-speed automated shuttles with their smart phones. The Smart Shuttle is planned to be tested and used at Easton Town Center on the city’s east side, with the goal of eventually being scaled and replicated at other locations throughout Columbus and the U.S.

Bilin, Levent, KunterBilin and Levent with their son Kunter With such intensity directed to ambitious projects like these during the work day, you would think it might spill over into dinner table conversation. “Oh no,” says Bilin. “We cook together and talk to our son to see how his day went.”

Despite the international interest in self-driving cars, their 11-year-old son Kunter has his own plans. “He has been in a lot of autonomous vehicles and has voluntarily helped us at global team challenges. But right now, he says he wants to do something ‘more interesting’ when he grows up, like becoming a medical doctor.” With parents like Bilin and Levent demonstrating their passion for knowledge and innovation each day, there’s little doubt that their son will chart an interesting path of his own.