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June 22, 2017

Bin Ran: Driving the future of transportation

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

America is driving toward a future where autonomous vehicles will rule the roadways, and Bin Ran, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been a pioneer in steering transportation research for several decades.

Ran’s far-reaching research interests span multiple aspects of moving people from place to place. His group develops technologies for intelligent transportation systems, models dynamic traffic patterns, creates mobile probes to estimate flow along roadways, and codes big-data algorithms to manage massive amounts of multi-modal transit information.

Currently, amidst growing public interest in autonomous vehicles—the driverless “smart” cars—Ran is working to give an intelligence boost to an often-ignored component of the transportation infrastructure: roads.

“Smart cars will be much safer if they drive on smart highways,” Ran says.

Communication between cars and the roads beneath their wheels will enable the most efficient traffic flow. Additionally, smart highways could potentially avert disasters by causing autonomous vehicles to slow down well in advance of danger. Ran has been developing theories about smart highways since the mid-1990s, and the Department of Transportation’s recent announcement that UW-Madison will become a testbed for self-driving cars will allow him to implement several of his proposals in real-world experiments.

Among all of his achievements—including holding several patents, having contributed to hundreds of referenced papers, and authoring widely-used textbook about dynamic traffic networks—Ran is most proud of contributing to the academic development of legions of young scientists who spent time in his lab over the years, several of whom have gone on to establish their own research programs around the world.

To honor and augment his work, UW-Madison recently named Ran a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor.