Big changes are on the horizon for car technology and drivers. So big, in fact, that a sea change is coming in how drivers and their vehicles will adapt to real-time traffic congestion and rapidly changing conditions in ways that are scarcely imaginable today. (More on this in future posts.)

To this end, the German automaker Audi and the US Transportation Research Board are launching separate research efforts that will study American driver behavior and collect roadway information over the next several years.

Audi is conducting its “Urban Intelligent Assist” project in conjunction with its own Electronics Research Laboratory in Silicon Valley, California, and four major American universities. Audi, which has already developed some of the world’s most advanced safety technology available in passenger cars, is taking such technology to another level by studying the complete process of navigation in mega-cities. By identifying common congestion spots, dangers, stresses, and other problems that drivers in major urban areas face, Audi will develop technology that will help them navigate more safely, efficiently, and with less frustration.

According to Audi’s press release, “The vision is to develop Audi models that will recognize individual motorists behind the wheel, know preferred destinations, routes the motorists have most commonly traveled, and the time needed to reach appointments. The car will be able to help the drivers detect and avoid dangerous situations better, too. … The Audi vehicles envisioned in this new project would work with a city’s connected infrastructure to, for example, reserve a parking spot near the driver’s desired destination and optimize the trip according to what is happening throughout the city.”

Recognizing the problems that increased technology is posing on drivers who are already multitasking, Audi acknowledges that “safety on urban roads will require a very deep understanding of the driver and his or her environment. With the proliferation of consumer electronics devices in and on-board vehicles, a major challenge in front of us is to ensure that assistance systems really help rather than distract or irritate the driver.”

The other study, funded by Congress, is the Strategic Highway Research Program’s (SHRP) Naturalistic Driving Study. About 3,100 volunteer drivers are being tapped in six major metropolitan areas, with the goal to investigate the underlying causes of highway crashes and congestion. Through the use of in-car cameras and radar, the research will record and study how the driver interacts with and adapts to the vehicle, traffic environment, roadway characteristics, traffic control devices, distractions, and the environment.

The information collected will be used by transportation safety researchers for the next 20 to 40 years in designing roadways, traffic engineering systems, public policy, and infrastructure improvements. Ultimately the hope is to reduce the incidence of traffic collisions and fatalities.