Smart Solutions for Smarter Cities

In 2020, the nation’s roughly 273 million urban area residents far outnumbered their 57 million rural counterparts. Urban growth breeds challenges – and today’s cities must find smart solutions that better the lives of their residents.

Governor Phil Murphy is committed to establishing an “innovation economy” that will deploy smart technologies to improve the quality of urban life. The New Brunswick Innovation Hub is doing this by transforming 12 downtown city acres and the wider Middlesex County into a cutting-edge living laboratory – Smart Mobility Testing Ground (SMTG). The SMTG’s network of sensors and computing infrastructure will help develop autonomous, connected and energy efficient vehicle systems by collecting and analyzing high fidelity mobility data.

Civil and environmental engineering (CEE) professor and Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) director Ali Maher and CEE associate professor Jing (Peter) Jin are spearheading the Innovation Hub’s development through collaboration with federal, state and local agencies, and industry partners. CAIT researchers are working to equip the Innovation Hub with high-resolution digital and radar cameras, smart intersections and pavement markings, and other mobility data-gathering and data-exchange technologies that will enable vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and other multi-modal communications.

Jin identifies advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and automated driving systems (ADS) as key components of smart mobility solutions. Mobility data analysis and sharing technologies, according to Jin, will not only facilitate autonomous vehicle systems but will also create safer roadways, and optimize public transit options.

Screen Grab-Innovation Hub Video 2.pngJin’s colleague, associate professor Hao Wang, envisions a day when smart streets and highways can alert pedestrians, drivers, and transportation agencies, to hazards ranging from icy roads to potential potholes.

Realization of his vision depends on sensors embedded in roadway pavement that detect and transmit information about road conditions to a network database that travelers and maintenance officials can readily access. 

According to Wang, since streets and surrounding highways are such a large part of urban land areas, these pavement sensors will improve safety for drivers and pedestrians – and increase infrastructure lifespans. Long term, he predicts a future that will provide real-time dynamic charging for electric vehicles .

While Wang is concerned with roadway safety, CEE associate professor Jie Gong is working to make urban and campus environments safer and more user friendly to pedestrians – especially those on the autism spectrum or who are visually impaired.

By modeling the encounters between pedestrians and vehicles, Gong hopes to make them safer and more convenient. This can involve selecting crosswalk locations based on usage patterns and enhancing their visibility to drivers and walkers.

“We’re creating a digital terrain of the built environment – roads, buildings, and infrastructure,” explains Gong. “Instead of doing experiments in the real physical world, we can do simulations in a virtual environment.”

Together with CAIT researcher Cecilia Feeley, Gong is exploring how to make street crossing less challenging and stressful to people on the autism spectrum. They can navigate the terrain by using his digital model – so that the researchers can then identify stress factors. Possible solutions could include everything from marking curb cuts at intersections with soothing colors to decreasing intersection congestion by diverting traffic.

He is also working on a project that uses smart phone technology to guide visually impaired people from train platform to the front door of Rutgers’ Old Queen’s campus’ Geology Museum.