Ohio State senior projects support Smart Columbus mission

Students worked with city to find smart solutions to community problems

By: Chris Booker

Published on April 19, 2017

The Ohio State University is the lead research partner for the Smart Columbus program, but it’s not just faculty leading the way. Students are also working to make Columbus a smarter city.

Students from the School of Environment and Natural Resources showed off their senior projects at the Environmental Professionals Network breakfast on Tuesday and the Smart Columbus program was the focus of nine of the projects.

“We literally got a priority list from the Smart Columbus folks listing the things they could really use some help on,” said Gregory Hitzhusen, assistant professor of professional practice at the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Hitzhusen and fellow instructor Abdoul Sam worked with students and the city of Columbus to develop projects tied to the Smart Columbus program. Last summer, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the city a $40 million grant to study high-tech mobility projects as part of the Smart Cities Challenge. Vulcan Inc., a philanthropic organization, awarded another $10 million to find solutions to reducing emissions.

The senior projects focused on smart streetlights, driverless shuttles, improving the energy grid and finding a high-tech way to pay for these services.

Smart streetlight prototype

William Boorn and his team studied the plans for a series of autonomous shuttles at Easton. They questioned dozens of workers and shoppers in the Easton area to find out who would use the shuttles and if they would pay for them and submitted the survey results to the city.

Boorn, a fourth-year environment, economy, development and sustainability major, said one of the discoveries in their project was the need for a little less autonomy in their autonomous shuttle.

“We found people were more comfortable if there was a steering wheel and brake system in the vehicle,” Boorn said. “They were even more comfortable if there were a trained professional in the vehicle.”

Three of the capstone projects focused on smart street lighting. The city has proposed a series of sensor-laden, Wi-Fi-enabled streetlights in the Linden neighborhood. One team of students built a prototype that included cameras, sensors that sampled air quality or dimmed the light depending on the time of day.

Rebecca Jennison, a fourth-year environment, economy, development and sustainability major, said the team plans to test the smart streetlight in the campus area.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and people wanting to move this forward,” she said.

Hitzhusen said the real-life nature of these projects and the support from the city was an invaluable learning experience.

“The students saw it really mattered to our partners with the city,” he said.

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