New civil engineering faculty examines how technology impacts the way we travel


By Tim Schley

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Navigating by smartphone is commonplace today, so it may be easy to forget that not long ago, drivers found their destinations using folded maps stuffed in glove boxes.

“Ten years ago, many of us did not own a smartphone,” said Xianbiao “XB” Hu, a recently hired assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Now, navigation apps like Google Maps are no strangers to most travelers. During the last decade, disruptive technologies and advanced machine learning models have rapidly changed the transportation field.”

Hu’s research focuses on smart mobility systems, investigating how technology can be used to create safer and more efficient ways to travel, especially when behind the wheel. As a doctoral student at the University of Arizona, Hu helped to create Metropia, Inc., a start-up company that uses artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies to help manage traffic congestion and improve transit accessibility.

He arrived at Penn State in August after spending four years as an assistant professor at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, where he also received funding to study both autonomous self-driving and electric vehicles.

“Looking forward, if autonomous vehicles become a reality, do we still need to own personal vehicles?” Hu said. “Would traffic congestion be reduced or get even worse, and how should our transportation infrastructure be prepared? Electric vehicles are another exciting technology that may impact our lifestyles, and there are so many more emerging.”

At Penn State, Hu will explore these questions, studying mobility modeling and analytics, infrastructure preparation for autonomous vehicle deployment, data-driven decision making, and other aspects of smart mobility systems.

Hu was drawn to Penn State thanks to the reputation of the University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the Larson Transportation Institute (LTI), he said. Here, he will be working with other CEE and LTI faculty to purchase and assemble a full-size autonomous vehicle with a full suite of sensors and software to continue investigating this emerging technology.

“I look forward to working with my new colleagues and students and engaging with stakeholders at both the federal and state level to strengthen Penn State’s already excellent reputation,” Hu said.


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Xianbiao “XB” Hu, recently hired assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Penn State. IMAGE: PROVIDED