By Katherine Connor
UC San Diego is launching an international research collaboration to develop smart and clean transportation systems and infrastructure, with an added goal of commercializing the results. In partnership with the City of San Diego, the City of Ulsan in Korea and the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), along with numerous industry partners, the UC San Diego Smart Transportation Innovation Program will develop technological solutions to tomorrow’s transportation challenges.
“I am confident that the Smart Transportation Innovation Program will accelerate our global collaborations to bring the results of our exciting research and development advancements to our respective communities,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. “I hope this will lead to safer roads with less accidents, better productivity and quality of life, and sustainable transportation.”
These goals will be met by leveraging the expertise of both regions on collaborative research that is then commercialized for public use.
“What we aim to do is strengthen and create innovation hubs to make San Diego and Ulsan leaders in smart and green transportation solutions,” said Sujit Dey, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego, and director of both the Institute for the Global Entrepreneur and the Center for Wireless Communications. Dey, who is an affiliate of the Qualcomm Institute, will also helm the Smart Transportation Innovation Program (STIP). “In San Diego we’ve done it again and again for wireless, biotech, cleantech and so on—I believe we can make San Diego an innovation hub for smart and clean transportation as well.”
While UC San Diego and the San Diego region are renowned as leaders in software and hardware technologies for autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and smart grid systems, the City of Ulsan brings different, complementary strengths as the hub of both Hyundai and Kia Motors, and the largest manufacturing city in Korea.
“This new collaborative effort between San Diego and Ulsan City is another example of how we can work together to share best practices, technologies and strategies that will benefit both of our regions,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer. “Our global partnerships are what continue to make our city a leader in technology and innovation.”
At a launch event in San Diego, smart transportation leaders from both cities and from universities and leading companies shared some of the challenges the Program will tackle, which include: developing sensors, computing and communication technologies for assisted and autonomous vehicles; developing transportation solutions for people with disabilities and the elderly; enabling the smart manufacturing of electric vehicles and more efficient battery and charging systems; and creating city-wide predictive maps of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
All of these efforts have the intended byproduct of helping the City of San Diego achieve its ambitious Climate Action Plan goals of using 100 percent renewable energy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035, with half of all trips via means other than a single occupant vehicle.
David Graham, deputy chief operating officer for the City of San Diego, said 40 percent of the region’s carbon emissions come from transportation, so this area is ripe for innovation.
“We’re very focused on this idea of how these innovations are helping with mobility, but also leading to reductions in carbon emissions as well,” Graham said. “The City of San Diego is a sandbox. We want to be open as a laboratory to play.”
General Electric, a corporate partner with STIP, took the first step into the sandbox in February when it installed 3,200 smart LED street lights in San Diego equipped with visual and acoustic sensors capable of generating environmental data, identifying open parking spots, tracking traffic, pedestrian and bike patterns, and more. This data will be available to STIP researchers as they work to improve transportation infrastructure.
“One project we have started is developing a real-time dynamic situational awareness map of city streets of all vehicles and users,” said Dey. “Not a Google map, but one that’s constantly changing as street conditions change, and is even predictive. We can use these smart street lights to collect tracking data and build this real-time map. Innovators will be able to develop smart transportation applications using such a dynamic and predictive situational awareness map.”
Henrik Christensen, director of UC San Diego’s Contextual Robotics Institute and a QI affiliate, could use such a map to solve what he calls the “last mile” challenge of autonomous driving, where vehicles have to navigate distracted pedestrians, skateboarders, and numerous other challenges once they’re off the highway and onto neighborhood roads.
Other speakers at the STIP launch included Matthew Cole, president of Cubic Transportation; Sanjiv Nanda, vice president of technology at Qualcomm; Masanori Ishigaki, research leader at Toyota Central R & D Labs, Inc; Sanjit Dang, investment director at Intel Capital; and Barbara Bry, City of San Diego council president pro tem, along with researchers and representatives from UNIST and Ulsan.
UC San Diego Vice Chancellor for Research Sandra Brown and Jacobs School of Engineering Dean Albert P. Pisano voiced their support for the Program as well.
“The Smart Transportation Innovation program builds our international partnerships beyond academia to directly improve our technologies and our communities,” said Brown.
What’s driving that impact? Commercialization. Translating the research conducted through STIP into commercial products is a key component of the collaboration. STIP will use the California Assembly Bill 2664 funding it received from the state of California for the acceleration of technology transfer, to provide grant funding to smart transportation startups accepted into the Institute for the Global Entrepreneur’s recently expanded accelerator programs. UNIST also plans to commercialize its research, as well.
“This is a milestone for deepening collaborative efforts among the two cities and two universities,” said Mooyoung Jung, president of UNIST. “I am also confident that this workshop will act as an impetus to move forward with the collaboration amongst the four parties.”