December 11, 2018  

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USM is First Mississippi University to Receive Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis Grant from National Academy of Sciences

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University of Southern Mississippi Research Professor Yuanyuan Zhang has secured a $130,000 national highway grant that she says could transform how pedestrian data is collected across the United States.

The two-year grant is funded as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), IDEA program that seeks proposals with potential to advance the construction, safety, maintenance, and management of highway systems. This marks the first such grant awarded to a Mississippi university.

Zhang notes that like roadway information is to motor vehicle safety, pedestrian information (e.g., sidewalks and crosswalks presence) is crucial toward improving the safety of these vulnerable road users. Yet, unlike widely accessible roadway data, pedestrian facility data remains unavailable for most state agencies.

“To address the need for this data, we will develop a novel collection system which can automatically detect, classify, and measure major pedestrian facilities from aerial images,” said Zhang. “This innovative system is a pioneer in applying machine learning technologies in facility data collection, and incorporating big data (e.g., crowdsourcing and street view date) to guarantee higher accuracy and efficiency in large-scale data collection.”

Zhang emphasizes that without this information, data-driven problem identification, countermeasure analysis, project evaluation, and performance management will be heavily impeded. In a recent survey, 37 state departments of transportation nationwide identified “collecting pedestrian facility data” as an important action in their strategic highway safety plans.

The grant projects involves a collaboration between USM’s College of Arts & Sciences; the Center for Logistics, Trade & Transportation; the School of Construction and the School of Computing.

“If the project succeeds, it will transform the way state agencies collect information about not only major pedestrian facilities but also other safety-related items such as curb ramps, media refuges, pedestrian signals, etc. with future system enhancements,” said Zhang.