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D Magazine Dallas Innovates: SMU Students Taking Wireless Vehicle Tech to the Streets

Researchers at Southern Methodist University are putting many Smart Car/Smart City theories to real-world tests.

Reporter Dave Moore with Dallas Innovates covered the research of Khaled Abdelghany in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of the SMU Lyle School of Engineering. Abdelghany is an associate professor and chair of the department.

His research focuses on advanced traffic management systems, intermodal transportation networks, airlines scheduling and irregular operations, and crowd dynamics. The article, “SMU Students Taking Wireless Vehicle Tech to the Streets,” published Jan. 18, 2017.

Read the full story.


By Dave Moore
Dallas Innovates

In urban areas, trips by cars and trucks are often unpleasant (and all-too-familiar) adventures in avoiding accidents, potholes, construction zones, and other drivers.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University are developing technologies that allow vehicles, traffic signals, and even construction signs to share information, to reduce unwanted surprises and drama on roadways.

While what Khaled Abdelghany and his team of researchers is up to sounds incredibly complex (because it is), the net result might lead drivers to do something as simple as stopping for a cup of coffee instead of sitting in traffic caused by an accident.

“With the information we’ve been collecting, perhaps someday, you will receive a message in your car that says ‘There’s congestion ahead; why don’t you stop and get a Starbucks?’ ” said Abdelghany, an associate professor in SMU’s Lyle Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

Abdelghany is working on the project with four students in his department, and is collaborating with Dinesh Rajan and Joseph Camp, who are professors in SMU’s Lyle Electrical Engineering Department.

Their research is part of a larger initiative to resolve long-standing urban problems.

SMU, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of Texas at Arlington are taking part in a nationwide effort — called MetroLab Network — to solve lingering urban problems by pairing university researchers with cities and counties seeking solutions.

Launched by the White House in 2015, the MetroLab Network includes 34 cities, three counties, and 44 universities, organized into 30 regional city-university partnerships.

The Texas Research Alliance is coordinating research efforts locally. The resulting technology developed in North Texas is intended to be deployed at some point in Downtown Dallas’ West End, and, perhaps, scaled regionally or nationwide.

Abdelghany and his students chose to tackle the problem of traffic congestion for their MetroLab project in part because they had already been working on various iterations of the issue.

Over the past several years, Abdelghany has collected Dallas-area traffic data, for purposes of predicting future traffic jams, and to help develop strategies for routing traffic around tie-ups when they happen.

Read the full story.

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SMU faculty, students to help UNHCR clean up refugee camp water

The search for solutions to dangerous water quality issues in refugee camps is driving an SMU lab group’s partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. SMU faculty and students will work in the lab and on the ground in Kenya, Uganda, Liberia and Bangladesh.

The group will integrate information from other sources to develop a database that will help UNHCR planners provide safer drinking water in existing and future refugee camps.

Supported by a $270,000 grant from UNHCR and additional SMU funds, faculty member Andrew Quicksall and his graduate students in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering are collecting water samples in UNHCR camps, bringing samples back to SMU for analysis and also training workers in and around the refugee camps to test water supplies.

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“They’ve asked us to build out a whole picture, truly worldwide, for what’s in the drinking water in refugee camps,” said Quicksall, the J. Lindsay Embrey Trustee Assistant Professor in the Lyle School of Engineering. “So we’re going to go on-site, collect water, analyze some in the field and bring quite a bit of water back to our SMU laboratories and get a full picture.”

Database to identify contaminants in camps with half a million people
The database developed by Quicksall’s group will identify contaminants in drinking water and allow UNHCR officials to track water quality in the camps over time. Some water quality problems are indigenous to the regions where the camps are situated, some develop over time, and some are the nearly instant consequence of thousands of people collecting in unsuitable locations to escape war and famine faster than sanitary infrastructure can be built.

For example, the agreement with UNHCR commits Quicksall’s team to investigate critical water issues in Dadaab, Kenya ̵ home to the largest refugee complex in the world. Nearly half a million people are concentrated in three camps there, many living in makeshift shelters of twigs, reeds and scraps. Refugees pouring across the border to escape war and famine in Somalia continue to face shortages of food, water, shelter and sanitation hazards there.

“The technical challenges of supporting refugee populations of this size will require that our teams stay engaged with the UNHCR for years to come,” said Geoffrey Orsak, dean of the SMU Lyle School of Engineering. “Fortunately, our new Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity makes it possible to lead efforts of this magnitude nearly anywhere on the globe.”

Research to investigate solutions to safe but unpalatable drinking water
Some camps have safe drinking water available, but the taste is so off-putting that residents seek out other sources. In Nakivale, Uganda, for example, the high iron content in well water drives refugees to drink surface water that is frequently contaminated with coliform bacteria. Quicksall’s group also will investigate methods of improving the taste of such safe, but unpalatable, drinking water.

Preliminary research results have revealed problematic concentrations of iodide in drinking water at Dadaab and fluoride in both Southern Uganda and Kakukma, Kenya. Some types of contaminants may not create problems short-term, Quicksall explains, but create severe health issues for people over the long term — particularly children and the elderly. His study group will have the opportunity to both recommend and implement remediation methods for those problem water sources, he said.

“To work with the science in the lab and see it applied internationally — I don’t think there is an opportunity like this anywhere else,” said graduate student Drew Aleto, a member of Quicksall’s study team.

UNHCR and the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity at SMU have signed an agreement establishing a framework for increasing the role of engineering and innovation in support of refugee camp operations. This agreement calls for the engagement of universities, government-run research institutes and corporations to address technical and infrastructure issues faced by UNHCR in helping refugees in relation to water, sanitation, shelter, communications and health care. — Kimberly Cobb

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