Connected-Vehicles Visionary Wins Grad Slam

April 7, 2016

Editor's Note: The top three winners of Grad Slam 2016 were all international students. Congratulations to Shayan Khoshmagham (Iran), Alejandro Martinez Chibly (Mexico) and Andisheh Ranjbari (Iran).

Three UA doctoral students collected $6,000 in prize money during the second annual Grad Slam competition, hosted by the UA's Graduate College, Graduate Center and Graduate and Professional Student Council.

Shayan Khoshmagham is among the scientists and entrepreneurs who envision a future where all vehicles on the road — emergency cars and trucks, commercial trucks, passenger vehicles — no longer will collide, thanks to the implementation of smart technology.

At the University of Arizona, Khoshmagham is working under the direction of professor Larry Head of the Department of Systems and Industrial Engineering to further the development of multimodel intelligent traffic signals. Head's team, which includes Khoshmagham, is currently pilot-testing the new system at 11 intersections in Anthem, just north of Phoenix, in partnership with the Maricopa County and Arizona Departments of Transportation, and at one location in Tucson.

"The whole story starts from the point where vehicles start talking to one another and to the infrastructure, saying exactly where they are and what priority they are requesting," said Khoshmagham, a fifth-year doctoral student in the department.

"But imagine a smart city, 10 years from now, where cars don't run into one another anymore," he said.

For the second year, Khoshmagham presented his work during the UA's Grad Slam, a tournament-style competition, taking the grand prize this year for his work.

With the UA Grad Slam win, Khoshmagham has earned a $3,000 prize, donated by the UA Office for Research and Discovery. The office also provided $2,000 and $1,000 prizes, respectively, for:

Alejandro Martinez Chibly, a doctoral student in the Cancer Biology Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, who took second place for his research into potential therapies for the radiation-induced loss of saliva in patients.

Andisheh Ranjbari, who took third place for her transportation engineering model for a new intercity public transit service designed to be fast, safe and more sustainable than commuters driving individual cars.

The event honors the campuswide contributions of graduate students, and serves as a professional development platform to also highlight graduate student research and discovery.

"We here at the University of Arizona are distinguished by the breadth and quality of our programs in research and graduate education, and events like Grad Slam are a critical step in the direction of creating the next generation of innovators," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, the UA's senior vice president for research. "With our commitment to student engagement, students in our graduate programs learn the skills necessary to thrive in their fields, going on to not only become valuable contributors to the workforce but to society at large."

Chibly, whose presentation revealed one of the significant harming effects of radiation treatment — a subsequent lifelong sensation of having cottonmouth, which can result in mouth sores, the loss of teeth and pain while eating — also took the People’s Choice Award, captured by vote during Monday's event.

Honorable mention went to Scott Daniel, a doctoral student in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, whose research centers on how fecal transplants can help reduce or prevent colon cancer.

The three winners and honorable mention recipient have been invited to compete in the Arizona 3-Minute Grad Slam, a first-time event the UA is offering in partnership with Arizona State and Northern Arizona universities. The April 16 event will be held at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, 435 N. Fifth St., in Phoenix. The event is free and open to the public, starting at 2 p.m. with presentations by UA, ASU and NAU students who will compete for a top prize of $3,000.

"One of the most exciting things has been working with NAU and ASU to introduce a statewide Grad Slam," said Kevin Chau, events director for the UA Graduate and Professional Student Council. "What we do is raise awareness of the work of graduate researchers on campus. We are only one-fourth of the student body, but we help carry out most of the research on campus and lead many of the lab groups. We are an essential part of research on campus."

New Grad Slam funding resulted in additional awards being granted this year.

The Institute of the Environment awarded Joshua Scholl, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology studying plant seed germination patterns and strategies, and Victoria Ligon, a graduate student of family and consumer sciences investigating human patterns that lead to tens of millions of tons of annual food waste, $500 each for a split win for Best Environmental Presentation.

Also, the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice awarded $1,000 for Best Environment and Social Justice Presentation to Joe Dupris, a graduate student of anthropology and linguistics, for his work to create a model of language revitalization in Native American communities that more effectively integrates grassroots community outreach, planning and citizen science with anthropological and linguistics methods.

For Khoshmagham, the Grad Slam win is a boon to his research, which is timely and globally relevant. Mercedes has introduced cars with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology in Europe, and Cadillac announced that it would begin offering advanced intelligent, connected vehicles with certain 2017 models. Other automakers are expected to do the same.

The U.S. Department of Transportation supports such technology, reporting that V2V and Dedicated Short Range Communications-enabled vehicles have the potential to "significantly reduce" deadly crashes. The Federal Highway Administration reported nearly 9,000 fatalities from collisions in intersections across the nation in 2014.

Unlike data provided by most conventional traffic signal systems, data from a connected vehicle captures the vehicle's trajectory, including detailed spatial, temporal and operational characteristics.

Khoshmagham is helping design algorithms that would provide a more complete observation of traffic flow that can positively impact the operation of the transportation system. This would enable drivers to receive information — through a dashboard, for example — about impending problems at an intersection, whether that be with pedestrians, bicyclists or other vehicles. Khoshmagham also is devising algorithms that would estimate performance metrics such as vehicle travel time on signalized arterials while protecting the privacy expectation of the road users. Privacy is ensured by allowing each vehicle to randomly change its identification information.

The pervasive nature of traffic accidents is what partially motivates Khoshmagham's work, which has potential for saving lives and reducing injuries.

"We can manage the whole system in a better way," he said.