May 31, 2006: CS receives $3.1 NSF IGERT grant in Computational Transportation Science

UIC Program Trains 'Computational Transportation' Scientists

Today's cars are loaded with computers, roads are laden with sensors for real-time traffic monitoring, and high-tech portable devices are at the ready to help make travel a breeze. So why are we still stuck in traffic?

University of Illinois at Chicago doctoral students from a variety of disciplines will try to answer this and other questions as part of a five-year, $3.1 million National Science Foundation-funded Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program. If successful, these scholars will mark the beginning of a new breed of expert: computational transportation scientists.

"Chicago is the preeminent transportation hub in North America and is therefore the ideal location to train computational transportation scientists," said Peter Nelson, a co-principal investigator in the program, as well as professor and head of computer science at UIC.

Computer science professor Ouri Wolfson, a world-renown expert on mobile computing and geospatial database technologies, is the lead investigator in the project.

Students and faculty will develop software for hand-held computers that will analyze real-time variables such as traffic conditions, public transit location information and known ride-sharing opportunities to provide, for example, quick and agile multi-modal commuting options or less congested routes.

Much of the raw information to be used is already widely available but needs to be pulled together. "Current development of computational transportation systems is largely ad hoc," the research team noted.

"Resource discovery can help the traveler identify needed resources more efficiently," said Nelson. "For example, which gas station is selling the lowest priced fuel, or where is available parking?"

About 20 academicians from five UIC colleges will partner in the program, along with experts from Denmark, France, Germany and Singapore. Students will spend from three to six months studying with foreign partners to gain a global understanding of surface transportation systems, Nelson said.

Beginning in mid-August, between five and seven UIC Ph.D. students will be selected to participate in this NSF program, with a comparable number added yearly.

Nelson predicted this cosmopolitan, multi-disciplinary approach to using new and emerging information technology for solving transportation problems will pay dividends for years to come.

"These scientists will be able to create transportation systems that reduce fuel consumption, pollution and congestion, and improve safety."

UIC co-investigators besides Nelson include Robert Sloan, associate professor of computer science, Aris Ouksel, associate professor of information and decision sciences, and Piyushimita Thakuriah, associate professor and interim director of the Urban Transportation Center.

Thakuriah hopes the program will lead to breakthroughs in intelligent transportations systems research, especially traveler information systems. She said her doctoral students "will focus on traveler behavior and traffic management aspects of surface transportation."

Ouksel said the program would "leverage advanced data management capabilities in wireless sensor and mobile ad-hoc networks to provide context-aware information to travelers." He added that it would use "economic analysis, cost and pricing models to investigate and develop solutions to facilitate exchange and management of information and services for travelers."

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