Urban Dynamics, Autonomous Vehicles, and Civil-military Collaboration at the Latest Faculty Luncheon

Improving Mobility and Transportation with Computer-based Modeling

Attendees at the Faculty-Meets-Faculty luncheon held on November 29 were treated to a presentation by Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Paul Torrens, who is also affiliated with NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP). Torrens develops and applies computer-based modeling and simulation tools that can be used for a variety of purposes — including studying pedestrian mobility along streetscapes, planning evacuation strategies in the case of a building collapse or other such catastrophe, and developing ways to control autonomous vehicles using physical gestures, to name a few of the projects on which he is working. For example, while Ford has long used LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) in its pre-collision detection systems, the company is now funding Torrens’s research into physical movement and gestures, in order to prevent autonomous vehicles from hitting pedestrians. 

Torrens explained that technologies like LIDAR can provide big data, but now, such data can be supplemented by what he characterized as “big awareness.”

“Early research in the field was partial, sporadic, and conducted at a distance,” Torrens — a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award and Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers laureate — said. “But today we can explore diverse vistas that make visible a level of detail never before seen. We’re looking at the urban experience in new ways that continually extend our exploratory capabilities.”

Levering Department of Defence Assets to Empower Entrepreneurs

Also on hand at the event was Frank Vallese, the Managing Director of the MD5 Acceleration Program at NYU Tandon, who informed the assembled faculty members about his program and how the NYU Tandon faculty could participate.

The program aims for university researchers, faculty, and Innovators-in Residence (IIRs) to leverage intellectual property that resulted from research carried out in Department of Defense (DoD) labs, he explained, in order to find new commercial applications for it in both the civilian market and in the DoD. “There’s a long tradition of dual-use research benefitting both the DoD and the general public,” he explained. “Think of the Internet, GPS systems, microwave ovens, and even some things you might not realize originated in government labs, like duct tape and instant coffee. So it benefits everyone when military and civilian researchers collaborate.

“This involves a really novel way of looking at entrepreneurship,” he asserted. “In most instances, a tech entrepreneur will identify a problem and then try to come up with solutions; in the case of our program, the solutions are already there in a DoD lab, and we need to find additional problems in the civilian market that they can be applied to.”

Vallese believes that there are numerous overlapping areas of interest on the part of Tandon researchers and those in the DoD labs, including machine learning, augmented- and virtual-reality, cybersecurity, energy, and biotechnology. “MD5 allows for a chance to forge new connections, share in the creation of new intellectual property and in publications, discover new avenues of research, and provide new opportunities for your grad students and post-docs,” he concluded.

Judging from the buzz in the room, faculty members were inspired and excited about the vistas explained in both presentations.