3° with Jeff Ban

by Michael Mullaney on April 11, 2011

Professor Jeff Ban just won an NSF CAREER Award for his traffic engineering research. We asked Jeff about his work:

Q: Your expertise is transportation and traffic engineering. Why do we need to conduct research on people’s morning commutes and weekend trips?

A: We have some general understanding about people’s commutes and weekend trips, but we lack large-scale and individual behavior data to test and validate the understanding. Widely deployed mobile devices may play a critical role in the future to bridge such gaps.

Did you ever play Sim City? How is your modeling research similar, and dissimilar to those kinds of simulation games?

I never played Sim City but heard about it. I do research in traffic simulation, for which the key is to understand the fundamentals of the real traffic system and implement them in simulation. I guess simulation games focus more on visualization and ultimately fun of the games.

One of your research thrusts is using mobile devices to inform traffic monitoring and management systems. Does this mean our cell phone will be talking to stoplights?

You are very visionary. This is certainly not the case now but may happen in the future. Actually there are currently initiatives for vehicles to talk to transportation infrastructure such as stoplights to reduce congestion and improve traffic safety.

Is there such a thing as a “perfect” transportation system?

I do not see such system in the near future, partially because transportation system deals with human beings, whose behaviors are very challenging to model and predict.

You studied in Madison at the University of Wisconsin. Which has worse winters – Madison or Troy?

Based on my limited experiences so far with the two cities (5 years at Madison and 3 years at Troy), I would say Madison – but only if you do not consider the past winter.

You also studied at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Sadly, I’ve never been to Beijing. Tell me a little bit about it.

Beijing is a giant city which has gone through a tremendous change over the years and is still growing. Like many other cities in China, Beijing has a long history with great museums and excellent food. I hope to meet you there sometime in the future and show you around.

When you’re not in the lab or classroom, what do you do for fun and leisure?

I like jogging and reading.

Click here for more information on Ban’s research. Click here to see other 3°Interviews on The Approach.