A team of researchers led by UCF Trustee Chair Professor Mubarak Shah, professor of computer science in the UCF Center for Research in Computer Vision, will play a key role in a newly funded national effort to forge livable, safe and inclusive communities with technologies built on advances in wireless communications.

This month the U.S. National Science Foundation announced its five-year award of $26 million to fund a new Gen-4 NSF Engineering Research Center for Smart Streetscapes (CS3).

CS3 is spearheaded by Columbia Engineering in partnership with the University of Central Florida, Florida Atlantic University, Rutgers University and Lehman College.

The grant, which supports high-risk, high-payoff research centers focused on advancing engineered systems technology and education with high-societal impact, will fund the development of streetscape applications to forge livable, safe and inclusive communities.

More than 80% of Americans and more than half the world’s population live in urban areas. High-density cities are transforming how people live, work, travel and manage urban infrastructure. With the nation’s urban areas facing challenges that threaten livability, safety and inclusion, it is streetscapes — neighborhood streets, sidewalks and public spaces — that are the center of public and commercial activities, where data can be harnessed for the public good.

Understanding complex streetscapes in real time requires progress in fundamental engineering knowledge and enables exciting opportunities for deploying public interest technology: a smart streetscape of the future can instantly sense human behavior and guide disabled pedestrians, collect refuse, control pests, amplify emergency services, and protect people against environmental and health threats. It can address unmet needs in road and public safety, traffic efficiency, assistive technologies, outdoor work and hyper-local environmental sensing. The CS3 project is focused on doing all that with the active, ongoing collaboration of its many diverse stakeholders.

The Center for Smart Streetscapes will unite diverse research communities through a convergent research model that delivers innovations across five areas: “Wi-Edge” (high-speed wireless-optical networking); Situational Awareness; Security, Privacy and Fairness; Public Interest Technology; and Streetscape Applications.

The UCF-led team will address CS3’s Situational Awareness research thrust — a critical piece of the smart streetscape puzzle — to develop computationally efficient and privacy-preserving computer vision and machine-learning algorithms to understand in real-time highly complex streetscape scenes, such as positions of people and things, context, people and objects in motion, and more, at scale with multiple cameras and fusion with other sensor types such as lidar.

The Situational Awareness team, led by Shah, director of the UCF Center for Research in Computer Vision and expert in advanced computer vision technologies, includes Mohamed Abdel-Aty, chair of the UCF Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering and expert in transportation safety and related technologies. Aty leads UCF’s Future City initiative that provides research and educational opportunities in smart city technologies. The Situational Awareness team also includes seven researchers from Columbia University and Rutgers University with research expertise in civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering and statistics.

“Building upon many years of research collaboration between UCF and Columbia University, we are pleased to be the part of this NSF Engineering Research Center, where we will leverage our world class research in Computer Vision to solve real-world problems related to smart, secure and private cities,” Shah says.

“Our partnership provides an unprecedented opportunity to pool the strengths of our institutions, embedded in cities that can serve as models for other urban areas around the world,” says Mary Boyce, provost, Columbia University. “By improving life at hyperlocal scales, we will unlock transformative innovation for communities where it matters most.”