Purdue News

November 14, 2006

Center to offer 'new vision' of transportation for nation

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University on Tuesday (Nov. 14) will announce that it is leading a new $13 million center to improve transportation efficiency and safety, better coordinate "intermodal" commercial freight shipping to strengthen the regional economy, and upgrade the highways and infrastructure of the future.

Darcy Bullock (left) and
Edward J. Smaglik,

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The center was awarded to Purdue by the U.S. Department of Transportation following a regional competition.

"We are proposing nothing less than a new vision for transportation," said Charles O. Rutledge, Purdue's vice president for research. "The underlying thrust is to find next-generation solutions."

The NEXTRANS center will be based at Purdue's Discovery Park, the university's hub for interdisciplinary research. Two major partners include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ohio State University. Five other universities also are involved in the center, which is expected to begin operating next spring.

The center will operate with $4.3 million the first two years and $4.6 million in the final year, including $2 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation for each of the first two years and $2.25 million the third year. The remaining funding will come from matching state government and private sources.

"Discovery Park is the ideal venue for the center because it naturally facilitates interdisciplinary research and interaction among academia, government and the private sector," said Alan Rebar, executive director of Discovery Park.

NEXTRANS will be unveiled Tuesday (Nov. 14) during the fourth annual Indiana Logistics Summit at the Crowne Plaza Hotel & Conference Center in Indianapolis.

Researchers will work toward applying technologies and developing strategies to alleviate congestion by pursuing short-term goals that strive to use the current infrastructure more efficiently and long-term goals of improving highways and other elements of the transportation infrastructure.

"One of the most basic elements will be to look into factors that are enabling innovation, such as information technology, wireless communications, and new types of sensors and detectors," said Robert Bernhard, associate vice president for research. "At a simple level, this means being able to constantly keep track of factors such as how fast cars are traveling, how many vehicles are moving on a given road at a given time and what the traffic density is and to communicate this information back and forth from the transportation infrastructure to the transportation vehicle fleet."

NEXTRANS will focus on integrating three overall areas: mobility, safety and infrastructure renewal, with an emphasis on developing an "intermodal transportation system," meaning a system that efficiently coordinates the movement of freight and passengers using a combination of highways, rail, airports, waterways and pipelines.

"As the crossroads of America, Indiana is positioning itself to become the transportation and logistics hub of the world economy," said Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Thomas Sharp. "With Major Moves, we are investing $12 billion to improve and expand Indiana's transportation system for the next generation. With 80 percent of the nation's population living within a day's drive of Indiana, our state is positioned to make transportation our competitive advantage in a global marketplace. To capitalize on our advantage, we need a freight transportation system that runs seamlessly across various modes, and an environment where data is freely shared between the private and public sectors."

The Indiana Department of Transportation is providing $750,000 a year in matching money through the Joint Transportation Research Program based at Purdue.

"Because the Midwest region is heavily oriented toward agriculture and manufacturing, we will be concentrating on ways to tackle issues related to those economic sectors," said Kumares C. Sinha, Edgar B. and Hedwig M. Olson Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering and director of the Joint Transportation Research Program. "Long-term issues will include transporting raw and finished products associated with ethanol and biofuels plants and using pipelines to move products, which would help to reduce trucking-related congestion."

In the areas of safety and traffic flow, having access to vital information in real time would make it possible to be more responsive to problems, such as accidents, and to reroute traffic on the fly.

"Usually, by the time you are aware of an accident up ahead, it's too late to avoid the area, and perhaps hundreds of vehicles are caught in a traffic jam," said Srinivas Peeta, director of the center and a professor of civil engineering at Purdue. "But if I could get that information to you and provide alternate routes, you would probably avoid the region completely."

Wireless technologies, together with new types of sensors and detectors, could be used to develop a system that enables vehicles to constantly communicate with each other, relaying traffic and safety data that could be used to warn drivers about problems ahead.

"This information will come to you through your personal digital assistant (PDA), cell phone and other devices," Peeta said. "Because of low-cost consumer electronics, this sort of system is now practical."

At the same time, motorists will be fed information through electronic highway signs that are automatically updated about conditions.

The center also will tackle the issue of information security and management, which is especially important because collaborating corporations will have to interact and share information.

"In the private sector, this becomes very critical because companies don't want to share proprietary information with their competitors," Peeta said. "It's a situation where companies are collaborating and competing simultaneously."

Truckers often travel with empty containers after delivering cargo, a practice called "dead-heading," wasting fuel and losing money. Modern tracking systems and radio-frequency identification tags would make it feasible to seamlessly coordinate the movement of cargo so that trucking companies could haul freight for a competitor instead of traveling empty.

"If trucking companies knew how much capacity they all had in real time, they could actually collaborate, but if you want to collaborate, your competitors shouldn't know what your demands are and who your customers are," Peeta said. "The questions is, how do you manage and secure all of this information?"

In the safety arena, sensors, detectors and other innovations will usher in a new era of "active-safety technology," Peeta said.

Sensors will make it possible to constantly collect information such as tire pressure, speed, vibration and wheel friction, which could be used to determine whether the driving conditions are slippery and automatically make corrections to improve traction. Sensors also will scrutinize a motorist's driving patterns and make adjustments to improve driving performance and "personalize" the vehicle to the driver, he said.

"For example, as people age, they generally react more slowly to hazards, so your vehicle would study your reaction to traffic and road hazards and automatically brake the vehicle faster," Peeta said.

Collaborating with industry is essential because issues surrounding the aging transportation infrastructure and traffic congestion are too demanding to be solved solely by the public sector, he said.

"What we need is public-private partnerships, so the question is, what makes it attractive for the private sector to participate and for these partnerships to develop, and how could private industry compete in what previously was looked upon as mostly a public domain arena?" Peeta said.

Additional funding for the center is provided by other government and industry sponsors, which include the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, NAVTEQ Corp., Delphi Automotive Systems, Motorola Corp., and Honda of America Manufacturing Inc., through the Transportation Research Endowment Program at Ohio State University.

Peeta said the center will explore a "new paradigm" for improving transportation by refining the intermodal system for personal as well as freight transportation.

"From a research point of view, we need to look more holistically at how to solve transportation issues because there is a lot of interaction between different elements of the system," he said.

A new wrinkle in the intermodal transportation picture is the emergence of a new class of small, relatively affordable jets that promise to use the nation's network of general-aviation airports. Because the jets do not require the long runways of commercial carriers, they will be able to pick up passengers in many locations, improving the convenience and efficiency of flying.

Peeta and Daniel DeLaurentis, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, are researching economic and engineering factors surrounding the concept of using the small jets and have recently completed a NASA study touching on the subject.

New funding sources will be needed to extend the center beyond its initial three years of operation, Peeta said.

The interdisciplinary center will involve researchers from civil, electrical, industrial and mechanical engineering, management, computer science and psychology.

"More than 50 faculty members from all of the universities will be involved in the center," Peeta said.

The center is one of 10 "university transportation centers" in the nation's 10 federal transportation regions. NEXTRANS covers the U.S. Department of Transportation's Region Five, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

"Each region contains smaller federally funded transportation research centers, and part of our charge is to provide leadership and coordination over the entire region," Peeta said.

While Purdue and the other two major partners will work collaboratively on all aspects of the center, Purdue will lead work focusing on interactions between the driver and vehicle, Ohio State will focus more on vehicle information and control, and the University of Illinois will lead efforts in infrastructure renewal, Peeta said.

The five other universities participating in the center are Martin University in Indianapolis, University of Wisconsin in Platteville, Wayne State University, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

An important role of the center is to provide potential career opportunities for students at Martin University, a non-traditional institution located in Indianapolis that enrolls primarily low-income minority and adult students, Sinha said.

Information about the center is available online.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Sources: Charles O. Rutledge, (765) 494-6209, chipr@purdue.edu

Megan Kaderavek, INDOT Office of Communications, (317) 232-8558, mkaderavek@indot.in.gov

Alan Rebar,(765) 496-6625, rebar@purdue.edu

Robert Bernhard, (765) 496-1938, bernhard@purdue.edu

Srinivas Peeta, (765) 494-2209, peeta@purdue.edu

Kumares Sinha, (765) 494-2211, ksinha@purdue.edu

Daniel DeLaurentis, (765) 494-0694, ddelaure@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Video also is available by calling Jesica Webb, at (765) 494-2079, jwebb@purdue.edu

Darcy Bullock, from left, a Purdue professor of civil engineering, and Edward J. Smaglik, a postdoctoral research associate working with Bullock, discuss information provided by detection equipment at an "instrumented intersection." The engineers are using the system to test specialized detection and control software algorithms designed to help improve the safety and efficiency of traffic flow. In the research, funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation, the engineers are gathering data from 17 cameras and sensors that provide information about vehicle and pedestrian traffic. The intersection, at Northwestern and Stadium avenues in West Lafayette, Ind., is one of only two such systems in the world, the other being on U.S. 37 and U.S. 32/38 in Noblesville, Ind. Engineers are using the equipment at the intersections to record data, on the scale of milliseconds, that is crucial for precisely controlling signals to optimize safety and traffic flow efficiency. In addition to research for INDOT, these intersections have been used for two other research projects with the National Cooperative Research Program, one research project with the University of Idaho's transportation research center and a variety of civil engineering academic classes. Researchers plan to conduct further research as part of the new NEXTRANS transportation center based at Purdue (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality image is available at https://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2006/bullock-traffic.jpg


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