Our faculty and students are engaged in research that is helping to solve some of society's most challenging problems.
Using Lottery Systems to Improve Lives
In the United States, demand for affordable housing far outstrips supply. More than 10 million people rely on federal rental assistance for their housing — nearly 70 percent of who are seniors, children, or people with disabilities. In an effort to fairly distribute the limited apartments and homes, public agencies in cities across the U.S. have turned to lotteries and wait-lists.
While ISyE Assistant Professor Nick Arnosti sees single lottery systems as a tool for good, he also believes they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. “No two systems are alike; there really are a million variations,” he says. “But rather than getting lost in the details, I think the important question to ask is: Are we giving people choice?”
The pandemic dramatically transformed the relationship between American households and online delivery services. What once felt like a convenience turned into a necessity for many families and individuals who felt safer on their couch than in the aisles of a retail store. ISyE Assistant Professor Yiling Zhang has been researching last-mile delivery, which focuses on the logistics behind transporting goods over the “last mile”—from a store or a warehouse to a person’s residence.
Zhang’s fascination with transportation and operations efficiency goes beyond last-mile delivery: She also mapping out an electronic charging station infrastructure for Metro Transit, the primary transit provider in the Twin Cities. Her research could lead to a wider adoption of battery electric buses in Minnesota and beyond.
Optimizing Your Morning Coffee
Queueing expert and ISyE Professor Sherwin Doroudi understands just how efficacious omni-channel service models have become for businesses with customers ordering in-store, online, over the phone, and from their phones. But are all businesses successfully serving customers in all of these channels? Is there a case where customer orders from certain channels should be prioritized over others?
"It's really contextually driven," Doroudi says of his research, which was done collaboratively with ISyE Ph.D. student Kang Kang. In certain cases, mobile ordering could be bad for business, they discovered using coffee shops as their research model. With their findings so far, Doroudi and Kang see an enormous potential to shake up the omni-channel system models used by healthcare clinics, government offices, and many more businesses, institutions, and organizations.
A Web of Connections
Professors Ankur Mani and Krishnamurthy Iyer, among others in the ISyE Department, are analyzing the structure, properties, and the advantages that come from large societal networks. These networks—both social and otherwise—surround us today. They include the transportation networks, communication networks, and electrical power grids, which when combined allow global economies and cities to run efficiently while accommodating massive populations.
"In the last 10 years, there has been a lot of focus on understanding how network structures can be used for previously unconsidered purposes: controlling epidemics, designing better transportation systems, increasing physical activity, reducing waste," says Mani. "We are finding broader and beneficial applications for network design."
Driven by Data Analytics
Data analytics is increasingly central to the research and teaching of University of Minnesota ISyE faculty. Their interest is driven by their own curiosity, but also fueled by questions arising in industry and business. Opportunities for ISyE students to study data analytics in their ISyE coursework continues to expand, and employers are eager to hire graduates with skills in this area.
"It's been a hot area and it's not cooling off," says ISyE professor Bill Cooper. "I only see the demand going up."
Streamlining Public Works
When two Twin Cities public entities called for help, ISyE assistant professor Qie He was happy to offer his expertise. Public transportation operator Metro Transit was struggling with frequent and unpredictable driver absences. With a team of collaborators, He compiled historical absence and overtime data and began to see patterns. This discovery evolved into a machine-learning model capable of predicting daily driver absences, as well as an optimization model for recommending the next day's reserve drivers.
He also accommodated Hennepin County and its more than 1.25 million residents through a collaboration with ISyE assistant professor Dan Mitchell. For years the County had retired snowplows after a decade of use to avoid excessive maintenance costs and depreciation. Yet, the County wasn't sure if this was the optimal policy. To provide a clearer answer, He and Mitchell studied 10 years of historical data from the County and tested different purchase and resale policies. Their work resulted in new replacement schedules that should save the County millions of dollars.