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May 23, 2022

PacTrans offers new summer program for middle schoolers

two students looking at a laptop

A new transportation course for middle school-aged students will be offered this summer, thanks to a partnership between the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans) and UW Continuum College’s Youth & Teen Programs. The course, Introduction to Autonomous Cars, will enable sixth to eighth grade students to learn about important topics related to autonomous vehicles (AVs) and their supporting infrastructure. Students will also work with a team to build their own AV using LEGO Education SPIKE Prime Kits, which combine building blocks and other elements with hardware and software.

During the course, students will hear from expert guest speakers on topics such as traffic safety, traffic control, sensing/computer vision, autonomous vehicles, human factors, advanced robotics and more. They will also get hands-on practice automating vehicle movements by integrating sensors, algorithms and a computing unit. Students will also have the opportunity to take field trips to on-campus labs and hear from UW researchers and scientists. 

The objective of the course is to stimulate more interest in transportation-related education and careers among middle school students, as well as general STEM learning topics. PacTrans leaders hope to make this course an annual offering and to work with the UW Youth & Teen Programs team to add more transportation focused courses in the future.

SCTL celebrates five years of success

Anne Goodchild cutting a cake

In celebration of its fifth anniversary, the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center (SCTL) is looking in the rearview mirror. In five years, the Center has made progress defining urban freight management problems, measuring and quantifying the urban freight system, and designing and pilot testing novel solutions to make urban freight more efficient and sustainable.

The Center is home to the Urban Freight Lab, founded in October 2016 as an innovative partnership that brings together academic researchers, private industry and governmental agencies. The Lab’s work is focused on a problem area they identified as the “Final 50 Feet,” now a widely used term that describes when delivery drivers must locate both parking and customers. The Lab recently completed a three-year project to reduce energy consumption in urban delivery, funded by a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Energy grant with additional contributions. 

The Lab has undertaken numerous innovative projects, including piloting a common-carrier parcel pick-up locker system at the 62-floor Seattle Municipal Tower, which enabled drivers to deliver to numerous recipients with just one stop. Three other locker systems were installed in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood along with in-ground sensors to gather data about delivery patterns and loading zones. Researchers also developed OpenPark, a first-of-a-kind app providing real-time and predicted parking availability, and piloted one of the nation’s first zero operating emissions delivery hubs that utilized electric-assist cargo bikes, delivery routing software, and electric pallets to move parcels from a transportation hub to customers. 

The Lab looks forward to continuing their work and seeing the transformation of the urban freight system into a safe, sustainable and accessible system for all.

RAPID Graduate Scholars Program

A researcher flying a drone in a field

The Natural Hazards Reconnaissance Facility (RAPID) has established a Graduate Student Scholars program to help expand the pool of natural hazards and disaster researchers. The new program aims to train graduate students on using state-of-the-art field instrumentation and data collection tools, as well as post-processing and analysis techniques. Students will also learn archiving practices that will enable data reuse by the broader research community. To support their proposed work, graduate scholars selected to participate in the program receive a $3,250 grant in addition to waived equipment use fees and other support services. 

Three graduate students have been selected to participate in the inaugural program: Amber Spears from Jackson State University, in Mississippi, will be conducting field reconnaissance on five small dam failures following torrential rain and flooding; Tyler McCormack from Northeastern University will be combining optical and acoustic methods to enhance wave observations in nearshore environments during storm events to help protect vulnerable coastal communities; and Julia Loshelder from University of Arkansas will be investigating soil strength changes at the site of a significant landslide in Norway to assess the risk of a future landslide and possible threat to nearby residents. The graduate students are expected to begin their research projects in summer 2022. The data they collect will be archived and shared in the DesignSafe data repository.

TRAC works to expand transportation equity

A person sitting in a wheelchair and a standing person at a cross-walk

Nearly every journey in a city depends at some point on a crucial, yet often overlooked bit of urban infrastructure: the sidewalk. Yet the digital maps and transportation apps that have revolutionized urban navigation over the past two decades contain little information about sidewalks or other pedestrian infrastructure. That poses a particular problem for people with mobility-limiting disabilities, for whom a cracked or uneven sidewalk or a missing curb ramp can be an insurmountable barrier.

A growing group of UW engineering and computer science researchers are making digital wayfinding more equitable and accessible to a broader segment of the population via a series of projects focused on sidewalks. One project, which aims to link sidewalk accessibility data to the broader transportation network, is the Transportation Data Equity Initiative (TDEI), supported by an $11.45-million, multiyear award from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The initiative is co-led by Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC), which acts as a link among government agencies, university researchers and the private sector, working to coordinate transportation research efforts.

TDEI aims to refine and help gain adoption of international data standards for three elements of the transportation system: sidewalks (the next iteration of an existing effort to develop data standards for sidewalks, called OpenSidewalks); navigating transit centers; and paratransit, which includes on-demand shuttles and community transit on Native American reservations. The initiative will develop procedures to collect, store, update and publish these data as a feed.

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