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U.S. DOT Leaders Select Winner of 2016 Innovation Challenge

December 20, 2016

Seven teams and a selection panel made up of U.S. DOT officials recently convened in Kendall Square to select the winner of Volpe’s fifth annual Innovation Challenge.

The Innovation Challenge, a Volpe staff competition that began in 2012, encourages multidisciplinary staff teams to develop and pitch creative ideas to improve some aspect of the transportation enterprise.

Teams spend several weeks developing proposals that are pitched to a panel of judges composed of senior-level U.S. DOT leaders. The pitches include:

  • A description of the proposal
  • The potential impact of the innovation
  • Market size
  • Financial viability

Teams must also explain how to transition their concepts into solutions that can improve the state of transportation. A winning team is selected to receive innovation funding to further its idea. While only one winner is selected, several of the ideas that are pitched often evolve into sponsor-funded projects.

The Pitches

The seven proposals offered a wide range of innovative transportation solutions:

  • Develop a methodology for crowd-sourcing turbulence data from a wide variety of modes to improve the availability, timeliness, and objectivity of the data. Turbulence data could be used for passengers choosing the smoothest airline flights, or to help municipal workers choose appropriate paving materials for pothole-prone areas.
  • Provide guidance in the form of standards, certification criteria, or use cases for the user interface portion of a technology that will enable trucks and other heavy vehicles to safely move from full to partial automation when a situation arises for the driver to intervene.
  • Mining social media references to rail suicides to prevent copycat incidents.
  • Measuring the “stickiness” factor indicating user feelings of desirability and safety of streetscapes by bicyclists, pedestrians of all abilities, and even automobile drivers.
  • Measuring workers’ predisposition for safety, and using the information to target safety training funds for those who would most benefit.
  • Using “eco-awareness” as an incentive to encourage drivers to adopt habits to save fuel and increase safety.
  • Develop a clearinghouse containing before-and-after studies of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvement projects.

The 2016 Innovation Challenge winning team: Beyond Bike/Ped Assessment. (Volpe photo)

The 2016 Innovation Challenge winning team, Beyond Bike/Ped Assessment, proposes a new tool for gathering information about pedestrian and bicyclists’ experiences using streets and public spaces.

This unique approach closes gaps left by traditional assessment methodologies (travel times, crashes, potholes) and gathers crowdsourced information about users’ experiences using streets and public spaces; about whether or not they feel safe and comfortable; or if the facilities are easy to use and serve their needs.

The proposed Beyond Bike/Ped Assessment tool will provide U.S. DOT agencies, states, cities, towns, and the public with a readily available, easy-to-use tool to assist cyclists, pedestrians, people with disabilities, and even automobile drivers in assessing the perceived desirability of outdoor spaces. The tool will be smart device and emoji-driven, with 5 input choices ranging from a very happy to a very sad face.

"Leading the winning Innovation Challenge team has been an enlightening and enriching experience, and I would encourage everyone at Volpe to participate in the competition. My team is emboldened by the opportunity to make our idea a reality. We know that creating safer streets is a top priority for citizens, activists, and governments, and we very much look forward to developing a tool that can help make communities safer places to walk, bike, and roll. By crowdsourcing data on the safety, mobility, and enjoyment of people using streets and public spaces, our tool will help identify strengths and weaknesses in existing infrastructure networks and provide impetus for making targeted improvements using available resources," said Ian Kolesinskas, the Beyond Bike/Ped Assessment team lead.

Next Steps

The winning team’s next step is to develop a prototype by early fall 2017. The development process will incorporate an iterative schedule, which will allow for stakeholder input along the way. The Beyond Bike/Ped team will work with the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts to deploy a prototype.

The selection panel for Volpe's 2016 Innovation Challenge. (Volpe photo)
Updated: Thursday, December 22, 2016
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