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Bucknell Professor’s Research Team Awarded $1.2 Million NSF Grant

Craig Beal and Team to Study Collection and Use of Data in Intelligent Vehicles

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Bucknell University mechanical engineering professor Craig Beal is part of a research team awarded a $1.2 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study the collection and use of data generated by connected users that could lead to safer and more ubiquitous self-driving vehicle technology.

Beal, Penn State University mechanical engineering professor Sean Brennan; and University of Massachusetts Lowell computer science professor Cindy Chen and mechanical engineering professor Kshitij Jerath were awarded the grant. They will collect data from connected intelligent vehicles to determine how it might best be used to navigate hazardous road conditions, such as icy patches.

“This work can save lives and suffering by improving safety-critical decision-making used by connected and autonomous vehicles driving under hazardous operational situations,” Beal said. “This research is timely and impactful due to the recent and rapid deployment of vehicles with enhanced sensing and connectivity.

“This grant is really intended to investigate how data points are related to each other and when data are no longer useful and actually lead to worse computer decision-making,” he continued. “It has broader applications beyond vehicles, such as in predicting yields of crops in fields planted at specific times within a region, or determining for how long Yelp user reviews of a restaurant provide useful information..”

Building Upon Previous Research
Beal previously received a 2018 NSF grant to measure steering torque — the effort required to hold the front wheels at a given angle as a vehicle travels around a turn — through sensors mounted within the wheels of an autonomous vehicle. The new grant builds upon that work to study how data collected through steering sensors in a fleet of connected and autonomous vehicles can be shared in a timely fashion to improve driving safety under hazardous road conditions. For example, when several connected vehicles hit a slick patch on an icy roadway, they could alert other connected vehicles in the area to take corrective action.

Even when considering only inclement weather accidents, the researchers point out that roughly 4,200 people die in the United States each year with 20 times that number injured or disabled, and 40 times both amounts when considering worldwide accidents.

Beal hopes that the methods and algorithms developed in this work can guide the deployment of all database systems where trust in data quality and timeliness are competing factors.

“This enables a wide range of information sharing,” he said. “The crux of what we’re trying to study is how you can use data to make the best decision. In a vehicle application, that includes where are you going, how fast should you go and what the conditions ahead are like. We’re using the vehicle as an important and socially acceptable example, but there are a lot of examples that are becoming data-connected systems.”

Outreach to Women in Engineering and Computing Fields
The grant also includes funding for outreach activities to provide young women with increased knowledge and role models, with the aim of increasing their participation in study of the engineering and computing fields. It will also support the development of graduate and undergraduate researchers at Bucknell, Penn State and UMass Lowell.

Bucknell undergraduate students will participate in the project.


CONTACTS: Craig Beal, 570-577-2347,; Mike Ferlazzo, 570-577-3212, 570-238-6266 (c),

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