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Virginia Tech Transportation Institute taps new executive director – Virginia Business Magazine

Zachary Doerzaph was director of VTTI’s Division of Vehicle, Driver and System Safety

Zachary Doerzaph starts as the executive director of VTTI on Oct. 1. Photo courtesy Virginia Tech, taken by Emily Roediger.

Zachary Doerzaph will become the next executive director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the university’s largest research institute, effective Oct. 1.

“Zac Doerzaph is a nationally recognized transportation researcher with extensive leadership experience in large team projects from different sponsors,” Virginia Tech Vice president for Research and Innovation Dan Sui said in a statement. “His intimate knowledge about Virginia Tech’s institutional culture made him the ideal candidate to lead the university’s largest research institute at this critical time.”

Doerzaph will oversee the institute, which has conducted pioneering research in the fields of smart highways and autonomous vehicles research. It conducts more than 300 transportation-related research projects in partnership with more than 100 public and private organizations. VTTI accounts for 12% to 15% of sponsored research at Virginia Tech and exceeded $50 million in externally sponsored awards for 2020. He succeeds Tom Dingus, who stepped down from the role on Aug. 1 after 25 years to return to his faculty position as the Newport News Shipbuilding professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics.

“The amazing people at VTTI have enhanced the field of transportation science,” Doerzaph said in a statement, “creating a legacy of positive impact for our communities. With the arrival of new technologies and services, transportation is undergoing a period of unprecedented change. Our extraordinarily talented team will leverage these changes to maximize the benefits of future driver, vehicle and infrastructure systems.”

Doerzaph will also take on the role of president of VTT LLC, a nonprofit corporation of the Virginia Tech Foundation that operates the Global Center for Automotive Performance Simulation in Halifax County. Doerzaph is also an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics.

Doerzaph previously led a team of 62 faculty, staff and student researchers as director of VTTI’s Division of Vehicle, Driver and System Safety.  Doerzaph was also the founding director of VTTI’s InternHub, a program that helps place students in internships for transportation companies.

Doerzaph’s research focus has been on measuring and improving the performance of autonomous vehicle systems, with an emphasis on safety. His team has worked with the Virginia and U.S. departments of transportation, and he has evaluated prototype technologies for automotive manufacturers and suppliers, including General Motors Co.

“Zac has a long history of working collaboratively with GM and the automotive industry through advanced proprietary work that contributes to the development of many vehicle safety systems,” John Capp, GM’s director of global vehicle safety technology and strategies, said in a statement. “I’m very pleased to see Zac selected for this leadership role.”

In June 2018, Doerzaph testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that large-scale deployment of autonomous vehicles will take decades to achieve.

He leads the Safety through Disruption (Safe-D) National University Transportation Center, which received $28 million, half from a U.S. Department of Transportation grant and half in matching funds from university, state and private sources. San Diego State University and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute are partners in the project. The Safe-D project has funded more than 90 research projects focused on four technology themes: automated vehicles, connected vehicles, transportation as a service and big data analytics.

As a result of Safe-D project research shared by Doerzaph and a VTTI colleague, Feng Guo, Google Maps now reroutes drivers around road segments identified as places they tend to slam on brakes.

Along with the Safe-D center, VTTI houses the National Surface Transportation Center for Excellence, which has generated $15 million in research funding. VTTI faculty members publish about 150 journal articles per year.