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SEAS professor receives grant to study artificial intelligence in transportation

File Photo by Sophia Young | Contributing Photo Editor
Arzhang Zamani, an adjunct professor in SEAS, is suing the University for the alleged injuries he received while doing research.

A professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science received a $140,000 grant last month to research artificial intelligence tools that can detect oncoming symptoms of health conditions in drivers.

Samer Hamdar, an associate professor of science and engineering and the director of the transportation engineering program in SEAS, received a grant from Moment AI, a technology company that develops systems to monitor drivers’ health irregularities on the road. He said his team will work to create an app that drivers can use to detect for oncoming signs of health conditions like strokes and epilepsy in themselves as well as autonomous driving technology to take control of the wheel after the health condition has been identified.

Megan Gray, the CEO of Moment AI, said the research is also focused on discovering how to use autonomous driving technology to maintain lane control for the driver and the car’s speed, something that researchers haven’t accomplished before.

“The detection of these disorders have not been done to the extent that we have done it, Dr. Hamdar and Movement AI, and that’s really where the difference is,” she said. “Dr. Hamdar has years of experience with [Advanced Driver Assistance Systems] technology, so with his past issues and our Moment Al technology, we believe we can build really great AI.”

Gray said by the end of the project, which will likely last about two years, she hopes to increase equity in transportation for people with conditions like epilepsy and strokes.

“That was one aspect is by being able to monitor these disorders we would allow more people to drive and therefore have access to work and increase the overall economy,” she said.

Hamdar said the research project is in its early stages because his team is currently collecting data from their simulations and preparing to integrate it into GW’s hardware and software.

“It is very important to reach out to all these communities that are disadvantaged in terms of accessibility and mobility,” Hamdar said.

Hamdar said his project will utilize simulating laboratories, which are maintained by the transportation engineering program in SEAS’ civil and environmental engineering department. Researchers can use the labs to automate vehicles and control the driving environments they’re attempting to simulate with computing screens and 3D projectors.

“You will be sitting in a car, you will be driving, in the environment that you choose,” he said. “And we can collect data related to the driver’s either fatigue or health-related issues, and that’s how we use a simulator.”

The research will provide accessibility to safe driving technologies for communities that have limited access to transportation because of underlying health conditions, Hamdar said. He added he was excited to work with Movement AI because of Gray’s “vision” to make transportation more accessible and equitable to a “very important” part of society.

Drivers with epilepsy are about one to two times more likely to get in a car crash behind the wheel than the general population, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Experts in engineering said the research could increase driving safety for those who experience health conditions that limit their ability to drive.

Ram Pendyala, the director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University, said this research may give a higher “degree of confidence” to drivers who suffer from health conditions because they will be able to rely on the technology to take over if something “catastrophic” were to happen. He added the research may even allow drivers who are more “homebound” to have the opportunity to travel safely.

“For those who have health challenges, the systems can take automated action or inform drivers, give them a greater sense of confidence, and therefore enhance mobility for those who are nervous about driving on their own currently,” Pendyala said.

Pendyala said simulator studies are “very commonly” used when researching transportation. The benefit of using simulation technology is that it allows researchers to perform large numbers of tests for scenarios and technologies that would be difficult to replicate in the real world, he said.

“A simulator-based study is very controlled,” he said. “You can do very controlled experiments. You can do statistically valid laboratory research that can give you more definitive results as to the effectiveness of a certain technology or intervention, with respect to understanding driver behavior under a wide variety of conditions.”

Susan Shaheen, an environmental engineering professor in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley, said this type of technology could lead to fewer crashes and deaths because the technology can detect for driving patterns, like drowsiness and fatigue, that lead to crashes.

“Drowsiness, driver fatigue and chronic fatigue are areas of research that have been applied to driving and AI,” Shaheen said. “Sensing and AI could become more standard in vehicle design and software. In the case of driver fatigue, advanced technologies could provide drivers with extra support.”

Shaheen said this research may extend to modes of transportation beyond driving and could potentially benefit air transportation by aiding airline crews during flights, who already utilize some automated technology.

“This research could benefit other modes of transportation, such as active transportation, by protecting other road users,” she said.

Lia DeGroot contributed reporting.

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