One million things happen each day on the mile-and-a-quarter of M.L. King Boulevard that runs from Highway 27 to Central Avenue. The study of those everyday events can help make cities better places for everyone, Mina Sartipi says.
"How can we synchronize traffic lights more intelligently?" says Sartipi, who leads the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "How can we optimize lights so we decrease emissions and improve air quality? How can we develop a safer environment for pedestrians?"
The potential applications for Smart City research happening along the city street run the gamut from improving social and physical health to creating more efficient traffic patterns to building out an infrastructure to support autonomous vehicles, Sartipi explains.
"If we can understand it, we can improve it," she says.
Understanding it starts with data — lots of data. The Smart City 'test bed' along M.L. King Boulevard watches and notes everything that happens, from cars passing through intersections to pedestrian and cyclist patterns. The road is a rich source of data, and a good model for future Smart City work, Sartipi says.
"It's a good representation of an urban environment," she says. "The hope is that we can replicate it in other parts of the city and country."
The Smart City work is led through the CUIP at UTC, but is a collaborative effort that also involves the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, CO.LAB, the Enterprise Center, EPB and Erlanger Health System. EPB in particular had a role in making Chattanooga a site for this cutting-edge research, Sartipi says.
It started with high-speed internet. The fiber is the reason we can process all the data," she says.
The test bed collects general data — the type of object, the number and frequency of objects — but the cameras don't save videos or images or sounds. "We only have data about generic objects," Sartipi says.
The test bed is one of just a few in the country, and it's unique in that it's owned by the university and the city, she explains.
"Many are owned by private industry and the information they collect isn't accessible to the public," she says. A view of the CUIP project, however, is available in real-time at utccuip.com/object-tracking.
In addition to benefiting communities, the work is a great educational resource for UTC students, Sartipi says.
"They work on real problems in a multi-disciplinary area — health, math, physics," she says. "They come out of our program really workforce-ready."
* Job: UC Foundation Professor, Director of the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
* Influence: The Smart City research Dr. Sartipi spearheads in collaboration with city, county and industry partners aims to make urban areas more livable, accessible and healthy for everyone.
* Just for fun: Dr. Sartipi is from Iran and her husband is from China, so they regularly take international trips with their two daughters, who are 4 and 7 years old. Closer to home, the family enjoys hiking, climbing and getting outdoors together.