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What is Computational Transportation Science?

In the near future, vehicles, travelers, and the infrastructure will collectively have billions of sensors that can communicate with each other. This environment will enable numerous novel applications and order of magnitude improvement in the performance of existing applications. However, information technology (IT) has not had the dramatic impact on day-to-day transportation that it has had on other domains such as business and science. In terms of the real-time information available to most travelers, with the exception of car navigation systems, the transportation experience has not changed much in the last 30-40 years. During this same time, the miniaturization of computing devices and advances in wireless communication and sensor technology have been propagating computing from the stationary desktop to the mobile outdoors, and making it ubiquitous. Transportation systems, due to their distributed/mobile nature, can become the ultimate test-bed for this ubiquitous (i.e., embedded, highly-distributed, and sensor-laden) computing environment of unprecedented scale. Information technology is the foundation for implementing new strategies, particularly if they are to be made available in real-time to wireless devices such as cell phones and PDAs. A related development is the emergence of increasingly more sophisticated geospatial and spatio-temporal information management capabilities. These factors have the potential to revolutionize traveler services, and the provision and analysis of related information. In this revolution, travelers and sensors in the infrastructure and in vehicles will all produce a vast amount of data that could be interpreted and acted upon to produce a sea change in transportation.

The emerging discipline of computational transportation science (CTS) combines computer science and engineering with the modeling, planning, and economic aspects of transportation. The discipline goes beyond vehicular technology, and addresses pedestrian systems on hand-held devices, non-real-time issues such as data mining, as well as data management issues above the networking layer. CTS applications will improve efficiency, equity, mobility, accessibility, and safety by taking advantage of ubiquitous computing.