Drive: Dr. Richard Li makes your commute faster and safer

 Dr. Richard Li wants your commute to be smoother, safer, and quicker. A junior member of the faculty in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Li’s research involves self-driving and vehicle-to-vehicle communications, systems which allow the vehicle to respond to outside data to allow for an optimized driving outcome.

Studying at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guanjzhou, China, which is located near Hong Kong, Li earned his undergraduate in Electrical Engineering. After college, he worked in a software company developing intelligent transportation software. There he developed a keen interest in transportation, and so enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, where he received his PhD in Civil Engineering.

“I grew up in Shanghai, which is one of the most congested cities in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to work in this field, is to improve the traffic, reduce the delay,” says Li.

Now, Li works to ensure that near-future technology and innovations can properly integrate with drivers to help mitigate traffic pinch points and potential safety hazards. Using smart technology, vehicles can communicate directly with the road, providing information about how to most effectively navigate busy intersections.

“For civil engineering, the transportation research is for how the roads can interact with the roads. How to maximize the through points on the road. How to reduce the omissions, says Li. “We use the flow dynamics to model the traffic, but it’s very difficult to do that, so it’ can’t be modeled as pure as traffic. The human factors are a very big factor. Autonomous vehicles, you don’t need the human to drive the vehicles. That will give us an opportunity to create a more harmonized flow.”

Working out of Cubic S, his lab which stands for Smart, Sustainable and Safer, Li has a number of projects related to his research that involve new legislation from the Department of Transportation that requires that all new light vehicles manufactured be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle modules. These sensors allow vehicles to gather data on stop lights, traffic patterns, and turns, which Li hopes to visualize with on screen displays.

“In two or three years, passenger cars, vans, SUVs, they will transmit through the wireless transmission their speed. They can talk to other cars. They can receive other vehicles location and speed,” says Li. “The US DoT has done a lot of research on the safety applications of those. For example, if you know the vehicles that are near you, if you are in a lane turning left, you have to yield to oncoming traffic. The computer -we call it an agent- will estimate if you can take the gap or not. It will tell you if you can make it. There are a hundred applications like that, like rear end correction, they’re based on radar.”

Encouraged by the possibilities, Li set up a simulator in Cubic S, which he hopes to use for a variety of impending studies.

“I’d like to study with young drivers and older drivers. My other idea, is to study drunk drivers with an MRI scanner. It gets your brain scan when you’re driving. It would test how much the drug and alcohol level will cause safety issues when driving in the simulation,” says Li.