Leveraging Autonomous Shared Vehicles for Greater Community Health, Equity, Livability, and Prosperity (HELP)
Lead PI:
Zhi-Li Zhang

This Smart & Connected Communities (SCC) grant supports fundamental research on a critical challenge facing many cities and communities: how to leverage the emerging autonomous vehicles (AVs) to re-think and re-design future transportation services and enable smart and connected communities where everyone benefits. The research envisages an ambitious "smart cloud commuting system" (SCCS) based on giant pools of shared AVs. The envisaged SCCS has the potential to bring about far-reaching societal changes. It will provide inexpensive mobility services to all people especially people with socio-economic disadvantages, help build stronger family and community ties, and boost economic productivity and equity by mitigating or removing mobility constraints. The research will be carried out in conjunction with five community engagement pilot projects, directly contributing to US prosperity and well-being. The research involves multiple disciplines, including transportation, computer science, data science, operations research, urban design, and public policy. The multi-disciplinary approach will help broaden participation of underrepresented groups in research, and enrich students' educational experience across science, engineering, urban design, and public policy.

The goal of the project is two-fold: (1) to study the feasibility, economic viability, architectural and operational designs of the envisaged SCCS; and (2) to analyze the socioeconomic challenges in realizing the envisaged SCCS to serve communities with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. In support of these goals, the project will leverage new and emerging data on travel demand, user preferences, and activity-travel constraints to quantify system efficiency gains that can be attained from time-sharing and intelligent control of AVs as well as from ride-sharing and smart trip scheduling of users. The research will also develop optimization models and algorithms that account for essential tradeoffs, including cost, quality of service, and congestion in deciding how best to deploy AVs geographically and temporally, leading to the identification of optimal AV fleet architectures and optimal operational policies. The research will also investigate, using micro-economic/game-theoretic analysis of the incentives of both users and service providers, likely scenarios of vehicle ownership and market structures and study the impact of each scenario on traffic measures including vehicle ownership and traffic volumes as well as societal measures including community health, equity, livability, and prosperity. This research will generate fundamental knowledge on the socioeconomic opportunities and impacts of the envisaged SCCS with shared AVs, and develop guidelines for adapting the design, deployment, and operation of AVs for future smart cities.

Zhi-Li Zhang
Zhi-Li Zhang joined the faculty of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota as an Assistant Professor in 1997. He is currently the Qwest Chair Professor in Telecommunications. He was named a Distinguished McKnight University Professor in 2013. Zhang received his M.S. degree (1993) and Ph.D. degree (1997) in computer science from the University of Massachusetts. He served as the Associate Director for Research at the Digital Technology Center, University of Minnesota from 2015 to 2021.
Performance Period: 09/15/2018 - 08/31/2022
Institution: University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Award Number: 1831140