Connected Cars Take Research Universities on a Test Drive

The Internet of Things, sustainability and transportation combine in a big data research project featuring four universities across the U.S.

by / June 24, 2013
These computers on wheels will be rolling up to campuses soon so that researchers can discover real world applications for them in a year-long pilot project. Internet2
When it comes to driving on our roadways, two up-and-coming technologies are front of mind: self-driving cars and connected vehicles. And beginning this summer, four research universities across the U.S. will spend a full year testing out the connected kind — which are filled to the roof with technology features including video cameras, sensors and campus Wi-Fi connections.
For that year, the universities of Washington, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, Madison — along with Colorado State University — will test drive four cars on each of their campuses.  
The project, called the Internet2 of Things project, is from the nonprofit consortium Internet2 and micro electric car manufacturer Innova Inc., and is designed to see how universities can use the connected Dash car in existing research efforts. After turning in applications that outlined their research plans, four universities out of 11 stood out above the rest because of their plans to integrate the car's capabilities with larger research projects and their strong campus focus on sustainability.
The selection committee looked for diversity in terms of the types of colleges, climates and research proposals that universities submitted, said Shel Waggener, senior vice president of Internet2. Because universities frequently submit research proposals to the National Science Foundation, the committee judged the applications according to the foundation's criteria, which includes the project's potential to advance knowledge and the broader impact of the research.
Through this project, the research universities will explore the Internet of Things and sustainability, not to mention collecting and sharing terabytes of data in real time. 
"These new vehicles will really provide a great platform for us to do a lot of exciting research relevant to big data and even optimization of the UEV [university electric vehicle] tracking systems," said Yinhai Wang, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium at the University of Washington. 
And that's a big deal for transportation research in particular because researchers don't have a lot of data. Currently the only connected vehicle project ongoing in the U.S. is at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, which is now expanding, creating a simulated city to further test such technologies.
In this new, upcoming project, more than 20 faculty members from different colleges and departments will research sensing, energy and transportation. They'll be able to track the movement of vehicles, deepen their understanding of the Internet of Things and see how low-carbon alternative transportation will work on a smart campus.  
Colorado State has set out to be a carbon-neutral campus by 2050, and its researchers will focus on how alternative transportation modes affect people's decisions. They've already done quite a bit of research on why citizens don't use public transportation: because they have obligations before and after work, and in the middle of the day.  
The university is interested to see whether the campus community will become more sustainable by driving the electric cars, and walking, biking or taking public transportation to campus. Colorado State is giving every student, staff or faculty member the opportunity to reserve and use an electric vehicle on campus when needed.
This project will bring together advanced networking, established mechanical engineering research, and the facilities management and service transportation groups in a multi-department collaboration, said Scott Baily, director of academic computing and networking services for Colorado State, and the project's principal investigator.  
Similarly, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will create a system where people on campus can check out a vehicle or reserve it online with their university ID. The application programming interface for the networked cars will be open so that the four universities can develop apps for things like reservation systems and share them with each other.   
The electric vehicles have so many monitoring devices on board that they present a unique opportunity for universities to monitor data, and track and analyze vehicle use, said Brian Rust, communications officer for the Office of the Chief Information Officer at the Madison university. The IT department will connect the vehicles to the university's network infrastructure so that researchers can download data that's collected. University of Wisconsin, Madison, already has a stable of alternative energy vehicles that the facilities planning and management group oversees, so these cars will add a research component to their sustainability efforts.  
Cardiac Hill on the University of Pittsburgh campus will provide researchers an opportunity to test the car's energy aspects, said Ervin Sedjic, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and principal investigator for this project. The sustainability-minded university is also interested in studying the behavior of these cars' drivers so they can predict potential users of the car. 
Speaking of drivers, the sensors on board the car can track heart rates and other physiological indicators that will generate a driver wellness score, said Roman Kuropas, founder and CEO of Innova. That's important especially for transportation safety research.

After the year-long project is over, universities will share the results of their research so they can learn from each other and inform the company's future business decisions about the cars.  

This story was originally published by the Center for Digital Education

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor, CDE

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.

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