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A focus on improving transportation

New partnership between UND and NDDOT will use UAS to improve transportation

The future of transportation is the focus of a new partnership between UND and the North Dakota Department of Transportation which will use autonomous systems to develop and maintain a modern transportation system.

The Transportation Technology Research Initiative, which will begin later this semester, will be funded by the NDDOT and housed in the College of Engineering & Mines.

“Our goal is to build a partnership with UND that will enhance our state’s transportation system and provide students a unique opportunity to develop practical skills for the future,” said NDDOT Director Bill Panos.

The initiative is divided into three focus areas: structures, materials and unmanned aerial systems. UND will lead the materials and UAS sections in coordination with NDDOT. NDDOT will lead the structures section and will select design projects for UND students.

The initiative will engage in transportation research for NDDOT as well as train a highly skilled workforce for the future. Undergraduate juniors and seniors, as well as graduate students, will participate in the initiative.

“This is the type of project at which UND excels,” said UND President Andrew Armacost. “It highlights the University’s expertise in engineering, computer science and autonomous technologies while taking advantage of the unique UAS ecosystem we’ve built in North Dakota. More importantly, it provides opportunities for our students to do hands-on research and receive valuable firsthand experience.”

One of the immediate applications that can be explored is the use of UAS to perform detailed inspections of bridges without having to shut down lanes of traffic. This has big implications for enhancing safety while reducing and possibly eliminating  annoying traffic delays.

Other activities the UND/NDDOT team may tackle include developing a corridor between Grand Forks and Fargo to test advancements in road and driver safety, working to mitigate wildlife crossing hazards through structural and material design, and reducing costs of major highway construction projects by developing reusable precast concrete to create highway crossovers.

Daba Gedafa, chair and associate professor of civil engineering, will serve as the interim director.

“This is a win-win partnership between UND and the North Dakota Department of Transportation,” said Gedafa. “The initiative will help UND recruit, retain and train students who have the skillset for the 21st century economy and provide a competitive advantage for real-world jobs in a wide range of professional settings.”

A primary focus of the Transportation Technology Research Initiative is the development of students by involving them in transportation projects that will benefit the state, but the work will have local, regional, state and national implications.

“This initiative gives UND an opportunity to obtain national recognition by making major contributions impacting the highway infrastructure through our entire nation,” said Brian Tande, dean of the College of Engineering & Mines. “We thank NDDOT for recognizing the excellent capabilities of our students and faculty and making this investment into our collective future.”