Traffic is light as you merge on the highway. But a few miles ahead, near a busy intersection, it starts to snow and cars are spinning off the road.
The risk for an accident has increased greatly. You should slow down or exit the highway.
That's the message from your vehicle, which is connected to a data mining system that tracks real-time traffic via cameras, toll barriers and other devices. While not available yet, such a system is under development at the University at Buffalo, which leads a research group that recently received a $1.4 million grant to develop high-tech solutions for our nation's transportation issues.
Awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the grant is a significant boost for UB's new Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics. It will fund multi-disciplinary research that utilizes data fusion and, ultimately, improves the safety and efficiency of highways, transit systems and other transportation system components.
"Our goal is to gather and analyze the wealth of data being collected by GPS units, smartphones and other devices," said Adel Sadek, Ph.D., UB civil engineer and the lead investigator. "We'll then use this information to enhance the safety, sustainability, economic competitiveness and resiliency of our transportation system, and to inform transportation policy."
Big data is a term used to describe data sets that are too large and too complex to process using traditional methods. As a result, researchers build computer models that sort, or "mine," the information to find relevant correlations.
Sadek, professor in UB's department of civil, structural and environmental engineering, applies the method to transportation systems. For example, he is working on a model that mines historic data and considers current conditions to predict future border crossing delays. Another model provides motorists with directions designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions from their vehicles.
As described earlier, another component of using big data to solve transportation problems involves outfitting vehicles with systems that observe road conditions and other pertinent data. The vehicles then send data to a processing center, which analyzes it and replies to the vehicles with useful information, such as to avoid ice-covered roads.
An example of this is underway in the Buffalo/Niagara region. CUBRC, a not-for-profit research corporation based in Cheektowaga, has equipped hundreds of vehicles with cameras and sensors that aim to gain a better understanding of the interaction between the driver, vehicle and road conditions.
CUBRC will collaborate with UB and the institutes of higher learning funded by the grant - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, George Mason University and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez - to analyze the data to better understand traffic safety and driver behavior.
The grant, which recognizes UB as one of 33 University Transportation Centers nationwide, comes months after UB established the Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics, a joint effort between UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and its School of Management.
The institute is one of 10 initiatives created via the university's 2012-13 E-Fund program.
"The grant follows a substantial new investment by UB in specific high-impact, high-return strategic initiatives that are responsive to NY SUNY 2020 and UB priorities," said Liesl Folks, engineering school dean. "This new collaborative research program will allow UB and its partners to make a significant impact in this area of national concern."