Research News

UB team receives grant to mine 'big data' for transportation improvements

Adel Sadek.

Adel Sadek mines "big data" to help solve transportation issues. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published October 4, 2013

Traffic is light as you merge on the highway. But a few miles ahead, near a busy intersection, it starts to snow and cars are spinning off the road.

The risk for an accident has increased greatly. You should slow down or exit the highway.

That’s the message from your vehicle, which is connected to a data-mining system that tracks real-time traffic via cameras, toll barriers and other devices. While not available yet, such a system is under development at UB, which leads a research group that recently received a $1.4 million grant to develop high-tech solutions for our nation’s transportation issues.

Awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the grant is a significant boost for UB’s new Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics. It will fund multi-disciplinary research that utilizes data fusion and, ultimately, improves the safety and efficiency of our highways, transit systems and other transportation-system components.

“Our goal is to gather and analyze the wealth of data being collected by GPS units, smartphones and other devices,” says Adel Sadek, a UB civil engineer and the lead investigator. “We’ll then use this information to enhance the safety, sustainability, economic competitiveness and resiliency of our transportation system, and to inform transportation policy.”

Big data is a term used to describe data sets that are too large and too complex to process using traditional methods. As a result, researchers build computer models that sort, or “mine,” the information to find relevant correlations.

Sadek, a professor in UB’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, applies the method to transportation systems. For example, he is working on a model that mines historic data and considers current conditions to predict future border-crossing delays. Another model provides motorists with directions designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions from their vehicle.

As described earlier, another component of using big data to solve transportation problems involves outfitting vehicles with systems that observe road conditions and other pertinent data. The vehicles then send data to a processing center that analyzes it and replies to the vehicles with useful information, such as to avoid ice-covered roads.

An example of this is underway in the Buffalo Niagara region. CUBRC, a not-for-profit research corporation based in Cheektowaga, has equipped hundreds of vehicles with cameras and sensors that aim to gain a better understanding of the interaction between the driver, vehicle and road conditions.

CUBRC will collaborate with UB and the institutes of higher learning funded by the grant—Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, George Mason University and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez—to analyze the data to better understand traffic safety and driver behavior.

The grant, which recognizes UB as one of 33 University Transportation Centers nationwide, comes months after UB established the Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics, a joint effort between the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the School of Management.

The institute is one of 10 initiatives created via the university’s 2012-13 E-Fund program.

“The grant follows a substantial new investment by UB in specific, high-impact, high-return strategic initiatives that are responsive to NY SUNY 2020 and UB priorities,” says Liesl Folks, engineering school dean. “This new collaborative research program will allow UB and its partners to make a significant impact in this area of national concern.”


These articles are great, and it reminds me of something a graduate level economics teacher told me back around 1990 at UB.


A group of us were in a Saturday study session/lab and we were struggling with the economics class. After much frustration, the teacher finally said, "Figure it out for yourself. I don't get paid to teach." In a state of shock, we all said, "excuse me?" He then said, "I get paid to research."


I wonder how all these research dollars impact the ability of the teachers/researchers to teach?


Warren Hamilton

Any excuse for further data mining is a bad excuse. This information is already available and has been for years. People act like we all wandered around in a confused daze before the Internet and smartphones were proliferated. Oh geez. What is that strange white stuff falling on the roads from the sky above? If only someone would receive a research grant to tell me that I should slow down when the roads are icy. Whatever shall I do?


Ronald Odde