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Wang Leads Workshop on Technologies to Power Smart Cities

Assistant Professor Qi Ryan Wang of Northeastern’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Assistant Professor Farrokh Jazizadeh Karimi of Virginia Tech, held a workshop to explore the systems necessary to create sustainable future urban areas. The conference, entitled “Building Blocks for Smarter Cities,” took place late July at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, VA.

Across the planet, people are leaving rural communities and moving into urban areas. Over half the world’s population resides in cities, a trend likely to continue. This level of urbanization is unprecedented in human history and presents an imperative for civil engineers and policymakers to develop an array of strategies for sustainable and resilient cities capable of supporting these burgeoning populations.In the conference’s program, Wang and Karimi call for increased focus on the foundational technologies that will power smart cities: “The ever-growing developments in engineering informatics, urban informatics, and intelligent systems have paved the way for pushing the boundaries in delivering smarter applications in cities beyond existing smart services. Therefore, future urban engineering and development requires an in-depth understanding of the new frontiers of these critical blocks and their interconnections.”

Urbanization and the Rise of Smart Cities

One possible tactic to achieve this goal is the creation of smart cities. In a globalizing and urbanizing world, developing sustainable smart cities will be an effort with worldwide implications. “Making cities smart is really a global strategy,” said Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Qi Ryan Wang, who is investigating the underlying urban systems that will be crucial to building such cities.

“We wanted to bring people together to figure out what are the fundamental building blocks that we can work on together,” said Wang. The conference joined researchers and program officers from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, Georgia Tech, MIT Media Lab, Uber, Tufts University, the University of Washington, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the University of California, Berkley, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We intentionally chose to have a diverse group. Almost no one knew each other before,” said Wang, who identified the diverse and interdisciplinary character of the conference’s attendees as one of its core strengths.

Attendees presented on a variety of topics, such as big data, automation, disaster response, and next-generation energy grids. Working in breakout groups, they focused on three overarching themes: smart buildings and connected building networks; intelligent, sustainable, and resilient mobility; and community-aware city infrastructure. The insights gleaned from the breakout sessions will inform an upcoming white paper. Wang and Karimi plan to continue the discussion by organizing a special issue of Advanced Engineering Informatics centered on the topic.

Urban Engineering at Northeastern

The conference, and Wang’s wider research, fit into the Northeastern University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s focus on urban engineering. Urban engineering at Northeastern is a strategic effort to center civil and environmental engineering instruction and research in the critical interdisciplinary areas of infrastructure security, environmental health, and sustainable resource engineering, powered by the emerging technologies of informatics, data science, simulation and smart sensing. The conference was sponsored in part by Dr. Vilas Mujumdar, a civil engineering entrepreneur and member of the department’s Industrial Advisory Board. Dr. Mujumdar delivered remarks during the opening of the workshop.

Related Faculty: Qi “Ryan” Wang

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering