Carnegie Mellon drives smart transportation research

Multifaceted partnership offers another example of how universities, communities and the private sector will pull together toward smarter infrastructure.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

SmartPlanet reported last week on the creation of an incubator at Carnegie Mellon University. The main thrust of that piece was IBM's planned support of the facility, which is dedicated to research and development for technology to help smart cities. But I got to wondering about the broader focus of the facility, which is actually part of the much larger Pennsylvania Smarter Infrastructure Incubator.

Matt Sanfilippo, who will act as the executive director of the lab when it opens in fall 2010, says the facility was launched in June along with founding partner Bombardier, the global transportation technology company. It is big into jets and railway transportation (think those monorail-type people movers that are popping up at airports).

"The goal of the incubator is to bring together a large network of companies that are interested in the smart infrastructure field. We are also trying to bring the IT folks together with the physical infrastructure people," Sanfilippo says.

Thus, IBM's role, which will be to help researchers perform valuable analytics on all the valuable information that is being collected by the sensors that are popping up all over the place on pipelines, bridges, railroads and such. The idea is to make information actionable, he says.

Sanfilippo says the projects chosen for the incubator will be driven by graduate students, Carnegie Mellon faculty scientists and researchers, and communities in Pennsylvania. Not the companies contributing funding, although their technologies will be used as a central part of the actuall research. The state's Redevelopment Assistant Capital Program (RACP) is a major source of funding for the facility; when it was established in June, the investment was listed at $2.2 million.

Here is some commentary from Romuald Ponte, vice president of engineering for Bombardier's Systems Division and the Centre of Competence: "Creation of the Bombardier Collaboration Center at Carnegie Mellon will enable joint research in fields such as smart guidance systems, rail control solutions, sensing robotics and so much more. We will also work with the university to explore creation of a master's level degree program in transportation systems."

An example of research that could be relevant for the facility is a project to apply certain radar techniques to seeking cracks in gas or oil pipelines; the techniques were originally explored by a Carnegie Mellon faculty member, so it is a logical focus. Sanfilippo says that diagnostic robotics applications will be another focus. Although there are many robot technologies that collect information on infrastructure today, the analysis of this data and flagging for areas of concern is still done manually by humans. That's where technology from a company like IBM gets involved: to automate that process.

The reasons that Pennsylvania is interested in things like this are pretty obvious: as a major contributor to the steel industries and other industrial sectors, it is in the state's interest to support the development of advanced technologies that will help those industries evolve. Another demonstration of the increasingly importance of public-private partnerships in the Smart Cities movement.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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