USDOT Awards CTR $1.7M in Tier 1 UTC Grant
Last week, USDOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) selected The University of Texas at Austin as a Tier 1 University Transportation Center (UTC) to advance cutting-edge research and educational programs that address critical transportation challenges facing our nation.
The co-beneficiaries of the award are the Center for Transportation Research (CTR) and the Wireless Networking and Communications Group (WNCG) — two research organizations within UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering.
A $1.4 million grant will be given to form a national and international multimodal and multidisciplinary center that integrates innovative developments in “big data” analysis, wireless sensor networks, transportation planning and operations models, and intelligent transportation systems.
Austin will be used as a test site for many of the projects.
Key contributors to D-STOP include: Dr. Chandra Bhat, Director at CTR; Dr. Robert Heath, Director at WNCG; Dr. Jen Duthie, Director of the Network Modeling Center at CTR; Dr. Sanjay Shakkottai, a professor specializing in wireless and sensor networks associated with WNCG; and Dr. Stephen Boyles, a network modeling and dynamic traffic assignment professor associated with CTR.
“This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in addressing the transportation problems we face today. There are complex challenges that require expertise from many different fields, and this grant makes that collaboration possible”, explains CTR Director and the new Tier 1 Center Director, Chandra Bhat.
Tasked with supporting US economic competitiveness, D-STOP will focus on harnessing the latest innovative wireless and related technologies and data sources to develop sophisticated systems for data collection and analysis. These systems will provide more accurate and precise predictions that will help inform transportation policies targeted at alleviating traffic congestion, improving travel time reliability, and enhancing economic competitiveness for communities, regions, and the nation as a whole.
D-STOP will be implemented in three core initiatives: Research, Technology Transfer, and Education.
From a research perspective, the group will focus its efforts on facilitating sound decision making through new, automated, and innovative ways to collect traffic-related data. The group will also develop data architecture systems and analysis methods to support transportation operations and planning.
“It’s not just about collecting as much data as possible. The unique aspect of D-STOP is that we are going to focus on turning that data into useable information that can either be provided to users in near real-time for efficient and reliable operations, or can enhance our planning procedures”, said Bhat.
As Jen Duthie, Director of the Network Modeling Center at CTR explains, “We are not just looking at how to get more data out there, but we are also interested in how users respond to information provided to them. Through studying user response, we can design the content and format of information provision systems more effectively.”
On the technology transfer side, D-STOP plans to collaborate with industry and transportation agency partners, so that these partners can provide strategic insights to the Center, and foster an environment of professional exchange that will lead to cutting-edge advances in the field. “We want to make a meaningful, substantive, and substantial contribution to the rapidly emerging and evolving interdisciplinary area of transportation and technology systems, and we absolutely need collaborative efforts with the industry and planning agencies to make that happen, explains Bhat.
Which brings us to the education component, designed specifically to articulate the importance of interdisciplinary systems. Students already play integral roles in CTR and WNCG projects alike, but exposing them to a broader interdisciplinary environment will provide a workforce that can help build and drive the field. Wireless networking and communications technology students will work in tandem with their intelligent transportation system peers. Steven Boyles, a member of the transportation faculty in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering, will be in charge of education activities for the new Center.
In addition to this University educational component, D-STOP will also reach out to Austin-area high school students to talk about opportunities in STEM fields.
“The WNCG and CTR are uniquely positioned to advance the frontier of transportation, with the marriage of deep expertise in wireless communications offered by the WNCG and the nearly 50-year history of transportation research in the CTR,” explains WNCG Director Robert Heath.
In addition, a second UTC grant totaling $300,000, comes as a sub-grantee on the University Transportation Center for Highway Pavement Preservation, awarded to Michigan State University. This group will explore techniques aimed to prevent pavement degradation, and extend the lifespan of materials used across the country. Dr. Jorge Prozzi, a faculty member specializing in the field of pavement materials research will be responsible for directing UT Austin’s contribution on this second grant.