Zhi-Li Zhang Leads Shared Automated Vehicles Research

Department of Computer Science & Engineering Professor Zhi-Li Zhang is the lead investigator on a project focusing on shared automated vehicles (SAV) and their impact on transportation and society. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Zhang’s work will consider the impact of SAV networks on public transit, traffic congestion, and social inequities. 

Zhang’s team envisions a "smart cloud commuting system" based on a giant pool of SAVs and examines a hypothetical roll-out in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. The algorithm integrates ride-sharing systems with schedule-based transit while prioritizing traffic mitigation and user experience. Additionally, the study examined the potential of “tele-drivers” to remotely operate vehicles. This possible solution kept humans at the steering wheel and responsible for driving decisions from afar.

Their model considered multiple disciplines, including transportation, computer science, data science, operations research, urban design, and public policy. This collaborative approach can help predict the technical feasibility of a SAV network, as well as its impact on jobs and prosperity, public transportation, social equity, and the economy. 

“How can local communities leverage emerging technology?” said Zhang. “Ride sharing companies have the data now to know how people move around. Transportation network companies are using public roads, so there should be a benefit to the public from the data. Let’s put this money back into the community.”

Based on their analysis, a SAV system is not only feasible, but could be very beneficial to a medium-sized metropolitan area like the Twin Cities. Specifically, a SAV system could make transportation more equitable if the right policies were in place to safeguard public interests. Read more about their findings and recommendations for implementing this type of system in the original article by the Center for Transportation Studies, as well as the research brief from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

This work is a collaborative effort between a number of departments and schools at the University of Minnesota, including the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the College of Design, the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering. The project was funded as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Smart and Connected Communities grant (award no. CMMI-1831140)—Leveraging Autonomous Shared Vehicles for Greater Community Health, Equity, Livability, and Prosperity (HELP), with additional support from Dayton Hudson Foundation funds at the University of Minnesota Foundation.