Research News

#TransportationProblem? UB is on it


Published July 5, 2017

Whether you drive, ride public transit, bike or walk, chances are you encounter transportation problems.

It could be a snow-slicked road, overcrowded subway platform or errant motorists paying more attention to their smartphones than to their surroundings.

Consequences from these situations can be severe. For example, Seattle-based INRIX and the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimated that traffic congestion in 2013 led to $124 billion in losses in the United States. And hardly a day passes that you don’t hear about some tragic motor vehicle accident.

UB is applying technology to help solve these problems. Here are some highlights:

One-of-a-kind test platform for self-driving cars

Traditionally, driving simulators and road-testing facilities operate independently of each other.

Not at UB.

Engineers are using a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to build a one-of-a-kind research platform for self-driving and connected cars. It combines UB’s existing driving, traffic and wireless simulators with connected and self-driving vehicles, and sensor equipment on university roads.

The goal is to make self-driving and connected cars as safe and efficient as possible, thereby reducing motor vehicle accidents.

Twitter can make roads safer, subways less crowded

Go ahead, blow off some steam on Twitter. It might improve your commute.

UB researchers are mining social media data to get a better sense of localized weather, crowded subways and other factors that affect traffic. The data they extract and organize may soon provide unparalleled real-time information about traffic problems.

Ultimately, the research will give transportation planners better tools to alert travelers to delays and danger.

Searching for new materials to make cars pollution-free

The automobile has come a long way since the days of Henry Ford. Unfortunately, it’s still a major source of pollution.

UB is part of an international effort to change that. Researchers are working with the Toyota Research Institute and other organizations to hunt for new materials for next-generation batteries and fuel-cell catalysts.

The goal is to design zero-emission and carbon-neutral vehicles that do not harm air quality or lead to other environmental problems.

Giving robot bees, other machines laser eyes to see

For machines to operate independent of people, they need to see the world around them.

UB researchers are leading an effort to provide vision to robot bees. These tiny flying machines may one day be used to inspect bridges, search dangerous buildings and a host of other duties that are difficult for humans.

A bonus: The technology is the same used by driverless cars and it could help improve how these vehicles see and sense their surroundings.

Student startup is bringing driverless tech to yachts

It’s not just faculty researchers working on transportation problems. Alumni and students are on the job, too.

Buffalo Automation Group, a startup born in UB’s engineering lab, is working to bring driverless technology to recreational boating. Most auto-pilot systems are reactive, meaning they adjust to conditions after the fact. Buffalo Automation Group’s technology, on the other hand, is proactive. It senses problems before they arise and helps avoid them.


And during the winter, once you get to UB you still have to cope with the appalling conditions in the parking lots, along some of the walkways and at the entrances to many of the buildings due to the inadequate clearance of snow and ice. Perhaps some attention can be directed to a solution to that transportation problem.


Susan Udin