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UD computer science professor awarded $50K grant for research commercialization

By Lucy Waskiewicz ’24

The National Science Foundation awarded a University of Dayton computer scientist $50,000 to explore commercialization opportunities for an artificial intelligence-powered traffic simulator he developed under a previous research grant.

Tam Nguyen, associate professor in the UD Department of Computer Science, developed a traffic simulator tool under a $314,005 grant awarded in 2020 by the National Science Foundation (NSF). He is using his new funding to bring the simulator to the market.

Nguyen’s original project monitored data from more than 10,000 traffic cameras in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a city well-known for its traffic congestion and high density of vehicles.

He applied a system known as visual crowd-AI sensing to the city’s camera network to analyze traffic patterns and detect anomaly events such as traffic violations, traffic jams and accidents.

Nguyen then used the traffic data to create a simulator to help urban planners visualize the real-life impacts of new transportation infrastructure and planning without the typically strenuous process of collecting data.

“Normally we rely on a traffic strip placed on the street and try to measure the number of vehicles, or a person goes to the street and uses a counter — it's very time-consuming and very tedious,” Nguyen said. “But the camera and AI never get tired and can work in all conditions — rain, snow, no problem. After that, we can analyze data to create a traffic simulation and you can see the impact if you add a new street or bridge.”

Nguyen's project was nominated for national-level funding after he completed two regional entrepreneurial training programs, which teach participants how to expand their network of relevant customers, identify new funding opportunities and create proposals for third-party investors.

Working with UD graduate computer science students Vatsa Patel and Aditya Shrivastava, Nguyen joined an NSF cohort in June 2023 that conducted more than 100 interviews with potential customers across the U.S. in a process known as customer discovery, which helps early-stage companies better understand their target market.

Michael Poor, associate professor and UD Department of Computer chair, said the commercialization opportunity demonstrates the potential of Nguyen’s project in the market.

“Any time a federally-sponsored project receives additional funding, it's a very positive indicator that the funding agency believes in the project and its potential for further application,” Poor said.

Tam Nguyen, 2024

Now, Nguyen plans to work with UD students to begin a startup company that can bring his technologies to customers.

“In research we get funding to publish papers, but papers just remain papers,” Nguyen said. “There are a lot of potential commercialization opportunities that we end up putting on hold because we have so many projects. The NSF funding gives us a chance to pause and see how we can actually bring our research from the University and the lab to the market.”

Nguyen envisions the traffic simulator as a tool that can extend beyond roads and urban planning to places with heavy pedestrian foot traffic, such as malls, zoos and amusement parks, which can use the simulator to visualize the impacts of various construction projects.

Poor said faculty like Nguyen who excel in fast-evolving computer science research set positive examples for current and future students.

“The field of computer science is constantly shifting to address new research concepts based on evolving technologies,” Poor said. “Having faculty such as Dr. Nguyen, who is staying at the forefront of his field, provides students the opportunity to learn from people who not only understand these shifts in research but are causing them.”

Nguyen believes his work can inspire students to envision the impacts of their research outside the classroom.

“It’s good inspiration for students to see that what you learn in the classroom can be used in real life,” Nguyen said. “I can be an example of that for the students because I have that experience and I know it can happen.”

For more information, visit the UD Department of Computer Science website.

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