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A Global Collaboration to Chart the Future of Urban Mobility

MIT teams up with three universities in Singapore to develop smart, sustainable urban transportation solutions
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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Research Foundation of Singapore today announced the launch of a project to develop new models and tools for the planning, design, and operation of future urban transportation. Aimed at making urban transportation systems more environmentally sustainable — first in Singapore, and ultimately on a global scale — these new models will be developed and deployed by nearly 60 researchers from four academic institutions.

The five-year project will be led by Amedeo Odoni, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and engage some 30 other faculty and researchers from the School of Engineering, the Sloan School of Management, and the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT. Assisting their efforts will be approximately 25 faculty members from the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and the Singapore Management University. This project will be a significant increase in the scale of transportation-related research conducted by MIT faculty and students.

"Collaboration on this scale is remarkable-and absolutely necessary if we are going to address an issue as complex as urban transportation and mobility," says Subra Suresh, Dean of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at MIT. "When addressing issues today, especially those affecting the climate, it is not sufficient to take complex problems apart and merely investigate incremental improvements to their components," he says. "This project will leave the challenges of transportation intact and try to address them all simultaneously. This new project will also benefit enormously from the Transportation@MIT initiative and Engineering School-wide faculty searches we launched earlier this year to create new opportunities to address major transportation challenges of this century."

At the heart of the Singapore project is SimMobility, a simulation platform with an integrated model of human and commercial activities, land use, transportation, environmental impacts, and energy use. This simulation will be linked with a range of networked computing and control technology-enabled mobility innovations. The project's researchers plan to use the data generated by these devices, and a range of new analytical tools that harness real-time information and management systems, to design and evaluate new mobility solutions for urban settings in and beyond Singapore.

"The central theme of this project is straightforward and ambitious," says Odoni. "Can we bring together the extraordinary recent advances in information technology and transportation science and increase the capacity and efficiency of urban transportation systems to provide high-quality service to urban travelers? And can we, at the same time, ensure a sustainable and livable environment?"

In addition to being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, Singapore already has a robust urban transportation system, as well as one of the world's most complete suites of sustainable mobility policies, regulations, and practices. "Singapore is an ideal location to test some of these ideas," says Professor Cynthia Barnhart, an operations researcher and one of the organizers of the project.

"When we launched the Transportation@MIT initiative last spring, we knew we could bring people from different departments and backgrounds together around ideas," Barnhart says. "Now, we will work together to create mobility innovations that improve productivity of our transportation infrastructure, reduce the associated environmental and energy impacts, and enhance the transportation experiences for the traveling public." Barnhart, the School of Engineering's Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, is the faculty director of Transportation@MIT and a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Systems. Other key faculty participants are Professors Moshe Ben-Akiva (CEE), Emilio Frazzoli (Aero/Astro), Patrick Jaillet (CEE), Li-Shiuan Peh (EECS), Carlo Ratti (DUSP), and Christopher Zegras (DUSP).

"Achieving a sustainable urban transportation system is a major challenge faced by many cities, including Singapore," says Dr. Francis Yeoh, Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore National Research Foundation. "We have invested greatly over the years in our infrastructure for land transportation. We are hopeful that the results from this collaborative research project with MIT would help us improve the productivity of our infrastructure significantly and establish Singapore as a pioneer and leader in sustainable urban transportation."

The Future of Urban Mobility team is the fourth interdisciplinary research group in the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre, or SMART Centre. The first three groups are in biosystems and micromechanics, environmental sensing and modeling, and infectious diseases. SMART is MIT's largest international research endeavor and the first research center of its kind located outside Cambridge, Mass. Rohan Abeyaratne, the Quentin Berg Professor of Mechanics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is the current director of the SMART Center.

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