College of Engineering & Mines

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CEM faculty awarded $580,000 in research grants to study ND transportation infrastructure

Sattar Dorafshan, assistant professor of civil engineering at UND, has been awarded multiple research grants in recent months from the North Dakota Department of Transportation, as well as an award from the Federal Railroad Administration. The three grants total more than $580,000 for a variety of investigations and experiments related to North Dakota transportation infrastructure.

In addition to his faculty role, Dorafshan also serves as director of the Sustainable Infrastructure Research Initiative and as co-director of the Transportation Technology Research Initiative based in UND’s College of Engineering & Mines. The latter initiative directly serves the NDDOT in the department’s effort to develop and maintain a modern transportation system.

“These projects share common ground, which is to promote and advance safety in our infrastructure system, reduce costs and reduce labor by developing non-contact sensing and robotics,” Dorafshan said. “This work is highly beneficial to our state, and the connection between our research and our state stakeholders is crucial for state-wide adaptation of the results and to train a skilled workforce in North Dakota.”

Sattar Dorafshan

In July, Dorafshan and the TTRI were awarded nearly $50,000 by the NDDOT to study “Applications of Drones for Inventory at NDDOT.” The project aims to explore different uses for UAS at the department, Dorafshan said.

In the first phase of work, the team used UAS to inventory salt and gravel stockpiles – a task that is challenging and often inaccurate when done in person and on the ground. The team is investigating the effect of different flight patterns on the accuracy of measuring stockpile volume with UAS visual cameras.

Dorafshan is also collaborating with Susan Felege, professor of biology and a wildlife ecology expert, and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department to study animal-vehicle collisions across the state. In North Dakota, animal-vehicle collisions account for 18 percent of all road accidents, a figure that’s three times the national average, Dorafshan said.

The project’s first phase, funded by the NDDOT in August for just over $118,000, will review national, regional and state studies to determine factors contributing to animal-vehicle collisions. With this data, the team will then make recommendations to the department on how to reduce the number and cost of animal-vehicle collisions, as well as how to maintain a statewide dataset for such incidents.

A third study, titled “Railroad Substructure Moisture Measurement and Monitoring Using Hyperspectral Imagery,” was funded for around $417,000 in September. On behalf of the Federal Railroad Administration, Dorafshan will use both visible and near-infrared imagery to evaluate moisture levels found in track ballast – the material lining the ground beneath railroad tracks.

Track ballast usually is made of crushed stone, and its load-bearing capacity can change drastically in the presence of excessive moisture. Dorafshan and his research team will use multiple wavelengths of light to detect and measure moisture trapped in railbeds.