The Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT) is a government-funded research institute, that focuses on the research field of construction technology and engages research related to national-level issues that are associated with the quality of life of Korean people. The main research facility is located in Seoul and consists of 20 buildings, of which some are testing labs (e.g. a water lab). Besides, KICT has a department of Fire Safety Research, a River Experiment Centre and the SOC Demonstration Research Centre in three other Korean cities. As example, one interesting project that the KICT does is the development of bridging modules together with North Korea. During the excursion, the general information about the KICT was presented by Chanjoo Lee.
The main focus during the presentation session at the start of the excursion was the topic of Smart Transportation. A research project was presented by Hyoungsoo Kim with as title: “Systems and services for automated driving cooperative to infrastructure on urban roads”. In this project, the safety of current automated vehicles was tested in order to develop infra-cooperative systems and services. For this research, a pilot test was conducted with four types of autonomous vehicles, all having SAE Level 4 which means that there is no person in the car driving.
As an introduction to the project, two accidents with autonomous cars were introduced to make clear the need for improving safety. In the past years two accidents happened in the US, namely a Tesla Model S that drove into a truck since it did not recognize is and a Uber car that could not recognise a person walking with a bicycle, since it was at night. This indicates that making an assessment of the traffic situation is still difficult for autonomous cars. Next to this introduction, the professor also shortly explained the different modules that are linked together so autonomous vehicles can communicate with roadside infrastructure. An example of this are camera sensors at intersections.
The pilot test of this research was conducted in a controlled environment with 1 kilometre of road, consisting of 3 intersections controlled by traffic lights and crosswalks, and a separate crosswalk. In order to do this pilot test, 5 weeks of preparation were needed to create this testing environment. During the presentation, videos of the testing with different traffic situations were shown. One of the videos showed a near accident with a pedestrian. Due to a parked car that was in the sight of the sensor, the autonomous vehicle was not able to see the crossing pedestrian at an early stage. The video shows that almost hit the pedestrian, and only because the vehicle was driving 30 km/h an accident was prevented.
During the Q&A afterwards, the professor made clear that information provision by the roadside systems to the autonomous cars is of importance to make autonomous cars more safe. Combining this information with the assessment of a traffic situation by sensors, would make autonomous driving much more safe. However, it is important that both public and private parties invest and that they work together, since in practise private car manufactures sometimes tend not to share information about their latest developments.
The topic of Smart Transportation relates to the microstudies of Smart Cities and Smart & Sustainable Transport. For example, the Smart City of Busan has planned to implement autonomous buses for which insights in this research might help to assess the safety. Besides, all tested autonomous vehicles are electric, which is seen as a sustainable mode of transportation.
After the presentations, it was time for a tour of the facilities at KICT. We went outside and went to several laboratories. The visits to the laboratories had a similar setup. First, a small presentation was given about the things they do in the labs. After this, we were allowed to walk around, view the lab, take pictures and ask our questions. Clearly, the people in the Labs were experts, as they could go in-depth about the questions fired at them.
First, we visited the structural lab. Here, they showed us what kind of tests they performed on structural elements in a video first. For example, they showed how they applied point loads on concrete beams to test whether they actually held what they were designed for. KICT tests their own elements, but other companies without such facilities can also come to them for testing. The visit to this lab helped the micro study of extreme building complexities, which sometimes ask for unique structural elements. On a meso-level, a question was asked about the concrete formula used to deal with seismic activity. Unfortunately, they did not want to reveal this secret.
Next, we visited a laboratory where they were experimenting with construction on the moon. With this visit, we clearly saw the vision of Korea to build a compound and potentially more on the moon. This in itself is very interesting as our students do not really look outside of planet Earth during their studies. They showed us a video of their plan to achieve this first, after which we could take a look at their machinery. They tried to recreate the moon’s surface in a machine that could lower the surrounding temperature to a similar climate. The surface was imitated by their own created version of moon-sand, KLS-1. We all even got a small jar of sand to take home.
Last, we visited the hydraulic laboratory. This lab contained a massive pit of sand where they could simulate whole harbours, which could benefit the micro study of Gateways. Also, they had a big flume where they performed wave overtopping experiments on hydraulic structures. For example, they tested several different caissons. These are necessary for Korea as regular breakwaters are impossible to construct with their deep coasts. KICT is coming to the Netherlands soon, where they will partake in a seminar with Deltares. During the tour, they even invited us to join the Seminar in Delft!
We ended the visit by grabbing lunch in a separate room of the canteen, which was reserved for VIPs. We took a final group picture and thanked KICT for hosting the excursion. Once again, thank you for welcoming us to your facility!