Research team selected to participate in NSF-led innovation challenge

4/19/2021 2:30:27 PM

Hadi Meidani
Hadi Meidani

A team led by Civil and Environmental Engineering assistant professor Hadi Meidani has been selected to participate in the CIVIC Innovation Challenge, a two-stage competition held by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in partnership with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Homeland Security to fund pilot projects that have the potential for scalable, sustainable and transferable impact on communities.

Meidani’s project addresses transportation challenges faced by low-income and marginalized communities – which often struggle with access to mobility – by introducing community-driven cyber infrastructure to support an innovative ride-sharing service. They will examine how such a system can provide safe access to shared transportation resources, connect neighbors within their trusted community, incorporate non-monetary transactions and incentives, and fill gaps of existing transportation infrastructure.

In the competition’s first phase, Meidani’s team will work with industry partners and local civic partners – including Housing Authorities of Champaign County, DREAAM (Driven to Reach Excellence & Academic Achievement for Males) program and Champaign County Regional Planning Commission – to determine mobility needs of local underserved communities, while focus groups of community members will help identify the most effective solutions.

“At this stage we are running preliminary studies into mobility needs of our local underserved communities,” Meidani wrote. “We have launched a survey that asks about the mobility needs, transportation options, technology access and communication platforms. A key feature of this project is that it is a co-design enabled by close collaboration between university researchers and civic partners.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to increase the upward mobility of low-income communities by addressing transportation needs associated with employment opportunities and access to social services.

Meidani’s team is one of 52 teams across the country awarded $50,000 each to participate in Stage-1 of the competition, during which teams will work to refine their concept. At the end of this period, NSF will select the top projects to move on to Stage-2. Those teams will each receive awards of up to $1 million to implement their projects.