The winning team, left to right: Mehdi Zamanipour, National Research Council; Joseph Vincent, University of Kansas; Britton Hammit, University of Wyoming; Rachel James, University of Texas.
The National Operations Center of Excellence and the USDOT Intelligent Transportation System Joint Program Office co-sponsored a first-ever “transportation technology tournament” at the Institute of Transportation Engineers 2018 annual meeting in Minneapolis on Aug. 21, with nine teams of college and graduate school students working directly with state and local departments of transportation to solve real-world transportation problems using both ITS and transportation systems management and operations or TSMO solutions.
A panel of judges reviewed the submission and the four highest ranking teams were selected to come to ITE 2018 to present their solutions.
From those finalists, judges chose the joint team of University of Texas, University of Wyoming, and University of Kansas as the winners and designated the Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo team as the runner-up.
The winning team’s solution, in working with District Department of Transportation, addressed “non-recurrent congestion challenges” facing Washington, D.C., by developing traveler information systems around work zones and for special events, which in this case focused on game-day traffic for Washington Nationals major league baseball games.
The winning team’s technology solution allowed supervisors to feed real-time traffic data to DDOT, which in turn funneled that information to Waze and other consumer-grade navigation systems to provide motorists with more accurate travel-time data and the selection of alternative routes.
Meanwhile, the runner-up squad from Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo partnered with the City of Detroit and Michigan DOT to develop a pedestrian safety alert system for street crossings.
Michelle Noch, head of professional capacity building within the USDOT ITS JPO, noted that one of the reasons for creating this competition is that “in working with universities around the country, we realized that students aren’t equipped with the creativity and teamwork skills necessary to really tackle our big transportation challenges. We decided to partner with NOCoE to host a tournament that would encourage these ‘soft skills’ that are necessary to advancing our transportation system.”
Jennifer Cohan, Delaware’s secretary of transportation and NOCoE’s chair, added that, as head of a state DOT, “I’m concerned about developing the talent we need to operate our system. We need people who understand how to serve the traveling public and that the job of our agency is to move people and goods and implement whatever strategies and technologies we need to move people and good more quickly.”
And that’s where a tournament like this one comes into play, stressed Patrick Son, managing director of NOCoE.
“When we think about the transportation system and the challenges like the ones students tackled for this tournament, we realize how we need people from a variety of disciplines,” he said. “We need data scientists, economist, communications professionals, and business experts. When we think about being customer focused and serving the traveling public, we’ll need a broader base of expertise than just civil engineers.”