WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Among the three teams selected as West Lafayette Smart City Challenge finaliststwo of them are made up of first-year Purdue engineering students.

These teams presented their tech demos on Friday and are now awaiting a decision on who will win $10,000 and a chance to test their solutions.

According to the Discovery Park District’s websiteThe West Lafayette Smart City Challenge was created as a partnership between the Innovation Partners Institute of the Purdue Research Foundation, the City of West Lafayette, the Indiana 5G Zone, and US Ignite to research solutions to improve traffic safety in corridors and high traffic intersections.

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While a total of nine teams submitted traffic solution proposals, three were selected as finalists: Metaverse Technologies Inc. – a Virginia-based startup – as well as LED Pathways and TRAWS (Traffic Real-time Analysis Weather System) , both teams from Purdue University.

“We’ve implemented a number of different initiatives to really drive connectivity as the district’s principal (Discovery Park) principal,” said Troy Hege, vice president of innovation and technology for Purdue. Research Foundation. “And that’s just one of those various initiatives that we’ve tried to promote and push forward.

“…I have to say for them, as freshman teams at Purdue, it’s pretty extraordinary in terms of what they (have been able to) put together and come here.”

Troy Hege speaks during the West Lafayette Smart City Challenge demonstration.  April 29, 2022

The first group to pitch their solution was the LED Pathways team, made up of members Talya Arpaci, Sarah Wheeler, and Lonnie Schwartz.

“We will have LED strips attached to both sides of the bike lanes,” Arpaci said of his team’s solution. “Whenever there is a biker, skateboarder or other transport user coming from behind, the LED strip – closest to the cyclist – will illuminate red up to a certain distance. This will alert the pedestrians walking ahead.

“… We also have buzzers. So, in case of speeding, we would like to know in advance that there is someone coming (behind you). Because, rationally, they will arrive more fast and I may not have the agility and quickness of mind to figure out what to do. That’s why we have the buzzers, to hear it coming from behind.

Arpaci further explained that the goals of the LED go beyond making congested bike lanes safer and faster with the benefits of its nighttime uses.

“Plus, we have nighttime visibility,” Arpaci said. “During the night, (the LEDs) will light up white… For me, walking at night with my glasses on is a nightmare because I don’t see people coming in front… especially it’s scary as girl. That’s why we’re trying to increase nighttime visibility.”

Members of the LED Pathways team demonstrate their LED strip demo for the West Lafayette Smart City Challenge.  April 29, 2022

The second group to perform their solution demo was TRAWS. Their product focuses on artificial intelligence/machine learning and message display based on road conditions such as icy conditions and low visibility.

“TRAWS uses a data-driven approach IoT approach to educate road and motor vehicle users about unseen hazards or potential barriers to travel on the Purdue campus,” said TRAWS Team Leader Ben Murray, “or (on) any road system” .

Thanks to their solution, the signs displayed on the roads will change to inform road users of invisible dangers. TRAWS demonstrated this through an LED billboard that changed the speed limit from 25 to 20 miles per hour, as well as illuminated a sign that read “slippery” as well as “low visibility”.

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This somewhat limited messaging system is just the start for TRAWS, as more elaborate electric bulletin board type signs are on their minds.

“So in IOT we have a modular system,” Murray said. “We have a bunch of different systems that communicate and interact with each other to produce a product for the end user.

“…We’re planning on using some sort of LED display that’s just a bit more robust so we can get more warnings and stuff.”

TRAWS team members during their presentation and demonstration of their road safety solution for the West Lafayette Smart City Challenge.  April 29, 2022

Added to Murray’s explanation was Team TRAWS member Atharva Rao.

“The engineering of sensors and prototypes like this is constantly evolving,” Rao said. “So we added a lot of things as we progressed in this area.”

Fellow TRAWS member Tobias Bautista echoed Rao and Murray’s sentiments on the importance and ever-evolving way of this type of engineering.

“The backbone of this challenge was to improve security and mobility on campus,” Bautista said. “This is how we (move) towards solving this problem.”

The winner of the West Lafayette Smart City Challenge will be announced by May 6. Winners will receive $10,000 to use to pilot their road safety solutions.

Margaret Christopherson is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email her at mchristopherson@jconline.com and follow her on Twitter @MargaretJC2.

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