University of Minnesota awarded federal grant to research societal benefits of CAVs


The University of Minnesota (UMN) has received a three-year US$1.75m grant from the USA’s National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the potential societal benefits of fleets of cloud-controlled shared connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

The University of Minnesota’s research is one of only 13 projects chosen by NSF as part of its Smart and Connected Communities grant program. Entitled ‘Leveraging Autonomous Shared Vehicles for Greater Community Health, Equity, Livability, and Prosperity (HELP)’, the funding will support fundamental research on a critical challenge facing many cities and communities – how to make use of the emergence of self-driving vehicles to rethink and redesign future transportation services and enable smart and connected communities where everyone benefits. The research envisions an ambitious ‘smart cloud commuting system’ based on giant pools of shared CAVs.

UMN’s College of Science and Engineering, Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the College of Design will oversee the grant, and researchers involved in the project will:

• Study the feasibility, economic viability, and architectural and operational designs of the envisioned smart cloud commuting system;

• Quantify system efficiency gains that can be attained from the intelligent control of CAVs, as well as from ridesharing and smart trip scheduling of users;

• Develop optimization models and algorithms that account for essential tradeoffs, including cost, quality of service, and congestion in deciding how best to deploy CAVs geographically and temporally;

• Investigate using economic models and likely scenarios of vehicle ownership and market structures to study the impact of each scenario on traffic measures, including vehicle ownership and traffic volumes;

• Understand the social impacts of CAVs on diverse populations and the effects they will have on land use and urban design, as well as on economic opportunities in disadvantaged communities.

The research will occur over a three-year period and will result in policy recommendations, design guidelines, and quantifiable information.

“These smart cloud community systems have the potential to bring about far-reaching societal changes,” said Zhi-Li Zhang, a UMN computer science professor and the lead researcher on the project.

UMN professor of industrial and systems engineering and co-director on the project Saif Benjaafar noted, “Using autonomous vehicles in this way will provide inexpensive mobility services to all people, especially those with socio-economic disadvantages. A system like this would help build stronger family and community ties, and boost economic productivity and equity by mitigating or removing mobility constraints.”

Tom Fisher, a UMN professor of urban design, added, “The research will draw on innovative mobility field experiments underway in the Twin Cities region and will collaborate with several public, private and civil society partners.

“These partners will include the cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, the Destination Medical Center in Rochester, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Council, and Metro Transit to design, plan and analyze a shared autonomous vehicle system for greater community health, equity, livability, and prosperity.”

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About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).