Tired of transportation woes? UTP is coming up with smart solutions

‘In UTP, you have to ensure that whatever you are doing, be it fundamental or applied research, addresses the pain points of industry,’ said Prof Abd Rashid.

The Institute of Transport Infrastructure for Smart Mobility at Universiti Teknologi Petronas advances research on transport systems to increase productivity, safety and security while reducing congestion, pollution and operating costs.

AT the Institute of Transport Infrastructure for Smart Mobility (ITI) in Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), researchers look at transport in the most general sense as the movement of people and commodities through roads, railways, airways and waterways in urban/suburban, or plantation, agriculture and offshore settings to access required services and facilities. Given the pressing demands for sustainability, this movement has to now take into account several factors.

This is where smart mobility comes in. It’s a megatrend that considers the seamless movement of people and things from one point to another using any means of transport while also bearing in mind cost, efficiency and impact on the environment.

Designing smart mobility solutions, whether it is to ferry large groups of people or transporting goods across challenging terrain, hinges on there being the necessary, supportive infrastructure.

This is where the work of ITI comes in. Organised under the pillar of smart communities, research undertaken at the institute considers smart mobility through the integration of three main elements - infrastructure, vehicles and operations – to create on-demand personal, and materials mobility systems that increase productivity, safety and security while reducing congestion, pollution and operating costs.

ITI director Prof Dr Abd Rashid Abd Aziz says the institute’s work encompasses three research clusters focusing on automotive and transportation, infrastructure monitoring and maintenance, diagnostic and reliability.

Members of the multi-disciplinary institute hail from the electrical and electronics engineering, mechanical engineering and civil engineering departments – creating a rich and exciting research environment for prospective postgraduate students. The robust research culture at UTP – where 90% of academicians are principal investigators – means that postgraduate students often dive straight into a project.

An added advantage for prospective postgraduate students is the research funding available. Each year, the institute receives RM3mil to RM5mil new research grants from the Higher Education Ministry, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry as well as the Petronas Group.

“When students join a centre or group, with a professor leading the group, then they can be assured that they are part of that research ecosystem. For example, my Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) students work alongside research officers and post-doctoral staff, collecting data and then using and analysing the data, which will then form part of their thesis,” he says, adding that these are most often industry-based projects. “So, this means that students are exposed to working with industry, and gain experience and knowledge from these interactions with industry."

“For postgraduate students interested in doing something futuristic, for example securing a breakthrough, then this is the place for them,” he says, adding that the work is often pioneering. “In UTP, you have to ensure that whatever you are doing, be it fundamental or applied research, addresses the pain points of industry.”

He points to the example of the study on water and diesel emulsion aimed at reducing pollution and improving fuel economy without compromising on the engine’s power output. This fundamental research project, he adds, will eventually lead to solutions for industry as well as address global emission and greenhouse gas emission issues.

“We work with industry because they know what are the real pain points. The advantage that industry has of working with us is our facilities, manpower and the fundamental knowledge, all of which can be applied to solve their problems. So, it's more than trial and error but a scientific investigation,” he adds. Industry partners include those from the automotive, oil and gas, telecommunications and plantation sectors.

Rich research environment

Some of the notable research projects undertaken include Dr Rashid’s own pet project on the use of the free piston linear generator as a future power source.

The 1 kilowatt free piston linear generator for distributed power generation.The 1 kilowatt free piston linear generator for distributed power generation.

“At the moment it’s an electric generator like the diesel gen-sets used at night markets but in the future this can be used as static power generation for electric vehicles charging infrastructure,” he says, not discounting the possibility that one day vehicles will pull into fuelling stations equipped with these generators to recharge their electric cars. “It can even be used as an on-board power unit,” he adds.

The institute is also looking at autonomous mobility for the agriculture sector, specifically vehicles that can roam plantations autonomously while carrying out inspection and collection jobs or the spraying of pesticides.

“We also have groups looking at developing communication tools based on the Internet of Things technology. One of the institute’s innovations is a people-locator tag, which has a transmitter and receiver and sub-protocol to determine a person’s location. So you can track the movement of your employees continuously in real time in a power plant or offshore platform for example, which is important for optimisation, security and safety.

Organisations as well as hajj and umrah operators for example, have expressed interest in the innovation to track the movements of pilgrims in Mecca. In an emergency you can account for and know where your employees or people are,” he says, disclosing that the research group is already in talks with a company to commercialise the product.

Given the pioneering work undertaken at the institute, it’s not surprising that it boasts cutting-edge facilities. The Centre for Automotive Research and Electric Mobility (CAREM) for example, is equipped with a high-speed digital camera, which is able to image flame development in a combustion chamber. With up to 0.5 million frames per second (fps) capability (compared to a handphone that can only record up to 30 fps), the camera is able to capture the evolution of a flame.

Constant Volume Combustion Chamber with high speed digital camera for flame propagation studies.Constant Volume Combustion Chamber with high speed digital camera for flame propagation studies.

“This is important to test how good a fuel is and make the necessary improvements because the faster the flame burns the faster the energy is produced so the better the engine performance. So students can use these same facilities for their research,” he says, adding that the research facilities are also used by the institute’s global industry collaborators.

UTP, which is ranked 70th in the QS Asia University Rankings 2021 also has a high ratio of international community among the staff and students. This offers postgraduate students a unique global intellectual and cultural experience.

For more information on UTP’s postgraduate programmes, visit www.utp.edu.my

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