In March 2016, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) embarked on the Campus Transportation Technology Initiative (CTTI). Supported by Texas A&M University and funded by President Michael K. Young, the project’s vision is to bring transportation innovation to campus to improve safety, mobility and quality of life. TTI Senior Research Scientist Bob Brydia leads the program, which provides students with a living laboratory of learning as they interact with the research community on real-world deployments of new technologies for industry partners.
CTTI projects focus on spot deployments of new technologies within the Texas A&M campus. Student teams from departmentally approved capstone courses participate by evaluating the deployments. For instance, over the course of four semesters, CTTI has inserted 30 projects into the Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISEN) Department’s capstone course, with 16 more projects taking place across five more Texas A&M entities: civil engineering, mechanical engineering, landscape architecture and urban planning, computer science, and the Bush School of Government and Public Service.
The projects have included such innovations as:
- autonomous shuttles,
- geofenced payment options for parking,
- parking lot analytics,
- in-place evaluation and mechanical property testing of solar-luminescent pavement markings,
- evaluation of people-mover options for campus, and
- development of technologies for pedestrian heat maps.
“Having TTI’s Bob Brydia bring his transportation research projects into our capstone course has provided our students with exceptional opportunities to apply their education to significant, real-world problems,” says Mark Lawley, head of Texas A&M’s Department of Industrial and System Engineering.
The results of the project evaluations feed into Texas A&M’s master plan update and the Campus Transformational Mobility Plan, also being conducted by TTI, with the overall goals of moving the campus to a greener, more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly environment, while accounting for the significant growth and rise in enrollment taking place at the University.
“One such example includes the unique opportunity our students were provided to work on a project involving IBM’s artificial intelligence Watson for autonomous shuttles, which garnered a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement from the group,” explains Associate Vice President Peter Lange, Transportation Services. “This was a first for our campus and a great example of just one of the many opportunities CTTI offers our community to be part of future transportation innovations.”
Though the course faculty act as the management team and students have an assigned faculty advisor for technical expertise, the students have a great deal of autonomy in their work. As project sponsors through the campus initiative, researchers from TTI and other departments can actively engage in the undergraduate education process. Texas A&M faculty and TTI researchers work together to contribute in a very meaningful way to the development of these future professional engineers.
Alejandra Hernandez, a student on the IBM Watson project team, acknowledges the value of this approach to education: “I never expected my capstone project to get the attention it has gotten or provide the experience it has. I am very, very grateful for the opportunities and really surprised by how well our work has been received.”
A key intangible benefit of CTTI is vastly strengthened ties, communication and collaboration across the University between the research and academic communities. Texas A&M University Administration has authorized a project continuation through December 2018.
As other signs of success, researchers have given guest lectures in undergraduate courses on specific technology topics brought to campus by CTTI, such as parking lot analytics. The ISEN student team examining the use of IBM Watson for integration into the autonomous shuttle had a paper accepted on their topic at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting this year, the largest peer-reviewed transportation conference in the world, which was a first for the department.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to bring current innovations and engage with the private sector while also enhancing the student learning experience,” Brydia says. “The entire process has been very rewarding, and I’m very proud of the interaction we’ve had with more than 300 students working on 46 diverse projects in such a short time period.”
4 CTTI Projects Educating Texas A&M Students
Evaluation of Parking Lot Analytics Technology
Dr. Madhav Erraguntla, Associate Professor of Practice, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Technology: Video analytics monitor parking lots in real time to improve their efficiency and ability to provide accurate, real-time information to people looking for a parking space.
Student Project: Using the raw images from cameras and the interpreted data from a video analytics algorithm, students analyzed the overall algorithm performance, cross-tabulated the results by time of day and weather conditions to assess when the algorithm performed well, and produced guidelines for effective coverage of future lots.
Application Development to Support an Autonomous Shuttle Ecosystem for Texas A&M Focusing on the Mobility Disadvantaged
Dr. Hank Walter, Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Technology: Supporting the autonomous shuttle for the mobility-disadvantaged population requires those students to be able to request trips in accordance with their needs.
Student Project: Students are designing the functional requirements and first-phase user interface of a ride-request application to enable mobility-challenged students to upload their course schedules and allow for scheduling one-time or recurring trips across the semester. The application must be accessible and usable across all disability types and provide usability features such as trip reminders and late/hold trip requests.
Integration of IBM Watson into Autonomous Self-Driving Shuttle
Dr. Srikanth Saripalli, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Technology: Texas A&M is developing an autonomous shuttle to operate in low-speed, urban street and/or college campus settings, with a focus on improving campus access for mobility-disadvantaged populations.
Student Project: Students evaluated the IBM Watson integrated services platform for its potential to provide some of the interactive services necessary to support a mobility-disadvantaged population. The team worked with Texas A&M Disability Services to determine that population’s specific needs and with the Texas A&M Mechanical Engineering Department, which is developing the autonomous shuttle, to understand current and future capabilities.
Evaluation of Luminescent Bicycle Pavement Markings at Dutch Junction Intersection
Dr. Tom Ferris, Associate Professor, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Technology: The first unsignalized Dutch junction in the nation seeks to provide positive separation and protection of the bicycle traffic stream and reduce conflict by forcing bicycle left turns to occur across the intersection in view of motorists. The design uses a newly developed, bright green, solar-luminescent bicycle pavement marking material to absorb daytime solar energy and release the energy at night to illuminate the bike path.
Student Project: Civil engineering students participated in a qualitative survey of users’ perceptions of the intersection and its specialized markings, while the ISEN capstone students performed a quantitative evaluation using video to produce an assessment of the operations within the Dutch junction implementation. Combined, the results indicate areas for educating the users of the intersection on its proper use.