Published February 21, 2023
From breakout sessions on self-driving vehicles to networking opportunities with bridge experts, last month’s Transportation Research Board (TRB) meeting — the largest transportation conference in the world — provided more than enough inspiration to attendees from the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
And SEAS faculty and students were motivators in their own right. They presented talks on topics ranging from examining drivers’ brain activity to using virtual reality to make roads safer for cyclists. They even hosted a reception for hundreds of academics and industry professionals.
“Our presence showed UB is a major player in transportation research,” says Kevin Hulme, a transportation research engineer and certified modeling and simulation professional.
The 102nd annual TRB meeting, held Jan. 8-12 in Washington, D.C., brought together approximately 11,000 transportation professionals and featured more than 600 workshops and sessions.
For members of SEAS, it was a chance to share the capabilities of the university’s Stephen Still Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics (ISTL) and Institute of Bridge Engineering (IBE).
As one of TRB’s bronze patrons, UB hosted a two-hour reception on the second night of the meeting to showcase ISTL- and IBE-related research. Attendees spoke directly with affiliated faculty and students, as well as viewed their standalone poster displays.
“The reception exceeded all our expectations,” says Stephen Still, ISTL benefactor and researcher who is also a professor of practice in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering (CSEE). “We had hundreds of attendees from leading universities, government agencies and the private sector.”
Among those presenting research was Austin Angulo, assistant professor in CSEE and affiliated with ISTL. He held a lectern session on a paper he co-authored that details the use of virtual reality to better understand cyclists’ behavior and preferences. Specifically, the research examined how safety infrastructure, like marked and separated bike lanes, changed cyclists’ physiological states.
“This offers a whole new way to look at how we design our roadways to accommodate all modes of transportation,” Angulo says. “We received a lot of feedback and interest in the research.”
Irina Benedyk, an assistant professor in CSEE and affiliated with ISTL, presented on her paper that described the use of an electroencephalogram to measure drivers’ brain activity while receiving voice directions. The research found it takes more cognitive effort to process routes with complex environments, and that stress and anxiety increase when routes have higher travel time uncertainty.
Benedyk was also part of the meeting’s winter maintenance committee, where Buffalo took center stage.
Just a couple weeks removed from the Western New York region’s deadly December blizzard, her committee discussed routing snowplows and best practices for informing the public of road conditions.
“Buffalo was right in the middle of the discussions,” Benedyk says.
Students also got the chance to share their research. One of them was James Lang, a graduate student in CSEE. He presented a poster on making asphalt roads out of recycled scrap tires. The research, initially funded by a $55,000 seed grant from ISTL, examines the environmental impact of this rubber-modified asphalt.
“The experience was overall a positive one,” Lang says. “I was able to connect with many industry professionals and learn about exciting research.”
As for IBE, several faculty members chaired committee meetings and led sessions centered on concrete bridges, bridge management and analyzing the life cycle costs of bridges.
Pinar Okumus, associate professor in CSEE and affiliated with IBE, led a discussion on concrete bridge research and delivered a presentation on alternative reinforcement materials for concrete.
“Through these exposures, we hope that the number of engineers, decision makers and bridge owners who turn to IBE for their educational, research and workforce development needs will continue to grow,” Okumus says.
In addition to bringing exposure to ISTL and IBE, the meeting was also a chance to explore new possibilities for the institutes.
ISTL researchers found the sessions on self-driving vehicles highly valuable for their efforts to bring autonomous shuttles to downtown Buffalo and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, a project supported by an $8.2 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant.
Plus, some of the driving simulators featured at the meeting were upscaled versions similar to ISTL’s simRING, a motion-based, 360-degree driving simulator that is the only one of its kind in New York State.
“This provides a benchmark to aspire toward,” says Hulme, who is program manager of ISTL.
Hulmes adds that ISTL and IBE researchers have long had a strong presence at the TRB meeting.
“I suspect this trend will only expand with time,” he says. “Especially as the entire transportation group here at UB continues to evolve.”