Engineering Students Revolutionize Transportation for Disadvantaged

The ability to maneuver through daily activities could become easier for people facing any number of challenges thanks to innovative research from the College of Engineering.

Inspired by the memory of late colleague Eric Arendt, a team led by Rupy Sawhney in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering has developed an app that allows those who rely on Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC) transportation to alert the system of their physical, mental, or linguistic needs.

“The students on our team put in a lot of work interviewing more than 600 people to find out their needs,” said Sawhney, Heath Fellow in the department.

Transportation-App

Students from the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering stand with a mock-up of Project Eric, an app they developed to help improve transportation for riders facing certain challenges.

“What began to emerge was the importance of riders being able to communicate what their needs were, whether there is an emergency on board or anything that might help the whole process.”

If someone with a muscular disorder were to suffer an episode, for example, the app could notify the CAC driver of the issue, prompting them to monitor or respond to the situation.

Students have begun the process of refining the initial app, fine-tuning it to meet the needs of real-world passengers and groups.

The CAC said working with UT to develop the app will help many passengers who depend on the transit services.

“This will open up new opportunities for people with disabilities to be more independent,” said Karen Estes, CAC transit director. “Having a way to communicate their routing, personal, and safety needs will be a tremendous help.”

A steering committee, including a wide range of area organizations that deal with transportation or disabilities—from Knoxville Area Transit to the Office of Aging—gave input and feedback. Ten government-level bodies and more than twenty-five businesses were involved.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero unveiled the app at a recent event and has shown interest in the app’s role in making the city one of the most friendly for the disabled.

“We couldn’t have been successful without the help and input we’ve gotten from those groups,” said Sawhney. “Everyone has really received it well and given us great information and ideas.”

While the impact of the app is starting to take shape locally, the ease at which it could be applied in other cities and for other modes of transportation has begun to generate outside interest.

Easter Seals has taken notice and contacted the team.

To take it beyond its current stage, the team is focused on refining the app based on the input received, ensuring that it stays as up-to-date as possible.

“The idea is to sustain what we have, to grow it to new avenues, and then to try to apply it in bigger cities with more complex transportation systems,” said Sawhney.

Arendt, a graduate student in the department who succumbed to cancer in March 2014, conceived of the idea as a way to communicate medical needs of riders to transportation providers.

Current team members Venkata Kamala Lavanya Marella, Hongbiao Yang, Dhanush Agara, Li Yuting, Vijaykrishnan Srinivasan, Gajanan Arha, Enrique Macias De Anda, Geiwei Zhang, Dinesh Patolla Reddy, Abishek Chimalapati, Issac Atuahane, and Bharadwaj Venkatasen continued Arendt’s work with the blessing of his widow.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)