October 5, 2018

cse_lead_story_auto_vehicle_600.jpgSelf-driving campus shuttles? Maybe.

Professor Zhi-Li Zhang and a team of U of M researchers are leading an effort to study autonomous vehicles that has recently received a $1.75 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of the NSF's Smart & Connected Communities grant program. The interdisciplinary University of Minnesota project is one of only 13 chosen by NSF nationwide.

The grant, entitled Leveraging Autonomous Shared Vehicles for Greater Community Health, Equity, Livability, and Prosperity (HELP), supports fundamental research on a critical challenge facing many cities and communities—how to leverage the emergence of self-driving vehicles, also known as autonomous vehicles, to rethink and redesign future transportation services and enable smart and connected communities where everyone benefits.

The research envisions an ambitious "smart cloud commuting system” based on giant pools of shared autonomous vehicles.

“These smart cloud community systems have the potential to bring about far-reaching societal changes,” said Professor Zhang, who specializes in computer communication and networks, internet technology, multimedia and emerging applications.

The proposed smart cloud commuting system would also provide equity and boost economic productivity.

“Using autonomous vehicles in this way will provide inexpensive mobility services to all people especially people with socio-economic disadvantages,” said Saif Benjaafar, a University of Minnesota professor of industrial and systems engineering in the College of Science and Engineering and a Center of Transportation senior scholar who is a co-director on the project. “A system like this would help build stronger family and community ties, and boost economic productivity and equity by mitigating or removing mobility constraints.”

The researchers say the work will also draw collaborators from across the state to help build stronger, smarter communities.

“The research will draw on innovative mobility field experiments underway in the Twin Cities region and will collaborate with several public, private and civil society partners,” said Tom Fisher, a University of Minnesota professor of urban design in the College of Design and a Center for Transportation Studies scholar who is also involved in the new project. “These partners will include the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Destination Medical Center in Rochester, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Council, and Metro Transit to design, plan, and analyze a shared autonomous vehicle system for greater community health, equity, livability, and prosperity.”

The research will occur over a three-year period and will result in policy recommendations, design guidelines, and quantifiable information.

“We’re hoping that our work can inform local and statewide decision making for our cities and communities,” said Yingling Fan, a University of Minnesota professor of urban and regional planning in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a Center for Transportation Studies scholar.

“The Smart and Connected Communities program continues to generate innovative and collaborative research applications that are addressing challenges faced by our local communities and cities and are offering solutions to help improve people's lives,” said Jim Kurose, NSF's assistant director for computer and information science and engineering.

For more information on NSF’s Smart & Connected Communities Effort, visit the NSF website.

Image caption: The University of Minnesota is testing an autonomous shuttle bus on campus in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Credit: Michael McCarthy, Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota