Transportation Institute Receives $3.4 Million in Further Research Funding

Thursday, November 29 2012

The extension of a federal grant will allow researchers at the University of Idaho to continue their work to improve the nation’s transportation system for people and the environment.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the University of Idaho’s National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology, or NIATT, a total of $3.4 million to run a Tier 1 University Transportation Center for a second year. There are only 10 Tier 1 centers in the country.

NIATT Director Karen DenBraven said the center’s goal is to reduce both fuel consumption and pollution emissions by finding ways to better manage and operate the transportation system and improve education for drivers.

“Basically, the theme is integrating the vehicle, vehicle operator and the transportation control infrastructure to achieve a more sustainable transportation system,” said Ahmed Abdel-Rahim, one of NIATT’s lead researchers.

Two of NIATT’s major research areas are engine design and traffic-control technology. Improved engines can reduce pollution, but so can transportation control systems that reduce traffic congestion and encourage fuel-efficient driving habits, or “eco-driving.”

“We’re working at the intersection of those two areas, and nobody has really done that to the extent that we are doing here before,” DenBraven said. “We’re envisioning this is going to be an entirely new area of research. There is so much to be done.”

Other NIATT projects include using driving simulators to teach users how to reduce the environmental impact of their driving, gathering and studying real-time vehicle data, improving engineering education methods and developing alternative-fuel vehicles such as a hybrid Formula One race car, constructed by university students.

Abdel-Rahim said the grant’s first year funded foundational research, and the second year will allow NIATT to move into the testing and implementation phase for the new tools and methods the institute has developed.

“We want what we develop to be used,” DenBraven said. “The University of Idaho is a national leader in technology transfer.”

NIATT is also a partner in a USDOT-funded regional transportation center, led by the University of Washington. The regional center also was awarded a second year of funding, with $554,000 going to U-Idaho.

This puts the funds NIATT has received from federal transportation grants over the past two years to more than $8 million.

Regional activities include educating teen drivers about distracted driving, researching the use and development of biofuels in the Northwest, improving rural roads and designing city road systems that better incorporate vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians and other forms of transportation.

U-Idaho’s work with the regional center also includes developing traffic signals for physically impaired users. An example of this technology is the “talking” crosswalk signal at the corner of Deakin and Sixth streets on the U-Idaho campus.

“I am excited that NIATT will continue its collaboration with our peer institutions regionally and across the nation,” said Jack McIver, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Idaho. “Competitive grants such as this allow the university to lead in cutting-edge research that benefits the economy and people in Idaho and beyond.”

For more information about the NIATT-led Tier 1 center’s research, visit

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