Traffic research green lights career opportunities

Imagine driving down Main Street in downtown Blacksburg.

In the stretch from Alumni Mall to Kroger alone, a driver will encounter seven traffic lights. Some of them will likely turn red, forcing the driver to stop the car, idle in traffic, and waste gas.

But what if the traffic controller could send a signal to the car to optimize its speed instead, allowing the driver to time arrival with a green light and conserve fuel?

Although his Main Street example is hypothetical, Fawaz Almutairi, a graduate student in the civil and environmental engineering master’s degree program at Virginia Tech, has been conducting his thesis simulations for this idea on behalf of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Center for Sustainable Mobility. The idea is called eco-cooperative adaptive cruise control system for multiple signalized intersections (ECO-CACC MS).

“Every time you stop the vehicle, you end up consuming more fuel,” said Almutairi, who graduates in December. “So our system would provide the car with an advisory speed limit to allow it to adjust its adaptive cruise control speed before reaching the traffic light. That way, drivers can conserve fuel, reduce emissions, and pass through without stopping.”

Like the traffic he studies, Almutairi keeps moving steadily toward his goals — and he doesn’t stop for long.

From Kuwait, Almutairi came to the United States in 2009 to study English at Old Dominion University and, later, civil engineering at Northern Arizona University. He was soon determined to attend Virginia Tech.

“No matter where I went, everyone kept talking about what an amazing school Virginia Tech was, and I knew that I wanted to go there. I thought to myself, ‘OK, that is my next step,’” said Almutairi.

That step arrived more quickly than Almutairi imagined — his application was accepted within a month.

Now, only a year and a half later, he is completing his graduate degree a semester early.

According to Almutairi, he owes his success to the mentorship of Hesham Rakha, director of the Center for Sustainable Mobility and the Samuel Reynolds Pritchard Professor of Engineering at Virginia Tech. Rakha provided the opportunity for Almutairi to conduct research for his thesis at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which annually supports more than 150 graduate and undergraduate students seeking to gain first-hand knowledge in the field of transportation research.

“I am grateful that Dr. Rakha and Virginia Tech in general have supported me and provided the opportunity for me to learn the integration simulation software that Dr. Rakha developed in-house. Here, I was also able to submit a paper [based on his thesis] to the Transportation Research Board conference, which was accepted and will be published in January 2017. If I did not work here, I do not think I would have been able to accomplish anything like this,” said Almutairi. “Working with wonderful professors like Dr. Rakha has given me the opportunity to develop the skills needed to find jobs back home.”

Almutairi is considering several job offers he has received in Kuwait. Although he plans to return home and work for a few years, Almutairi is already thinking about coming back to the United States to complete his doctorate.

“I do need a break [from school] to refresh my mind,” he admitted, laughing. “But I would like to come back in a few years. Virginia Tech has been a good fit for my future. Graduating from a great school such as this is the best thing that could happen in all my dreams.”

Thanks to Virginia Tech and the research experience he has gained while at the transportation institute, Almutairi’s career path appears to be greenlit with few delays in sight.


Written by Anne Deekens