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Mohan Trivedi

THE BIGGEST PROJECT now underway in his lab could literally save lives and potentially billions of dollars. And for Mohan Trivedi and his dynamic team of students, the importance of the work they are doing generates an enthusiasm that is positively palpable. "It is very exciting to be working on projects where we anticipate very clear benefits for society not so far off in the future," says ECE professor Trivedi.

Trivedi, who directs UCSD's Computer Vision and Robotics Research (CVRR) laboratory, is referring to a project sponsored by Caltrans and the UC Office of the President’s Digital Media Innovation initiative. The program’s goal: develop a system to detect and analyze traffic accidents using cameras and other sensors deployed along roadways, and build a robotic emergency-response team that can swing into action long before the police or other emergency personnel can reach the scene. "If you just shave five minutes off the response time to accidents involving potentially fatal injuries, you’d save hundreds of lives," says Trivedi. "It would also reduce the amount of traffic congestion caused by accidents and other so-called traffic incidents, and Caltrans estimates that those incidents cost California alone an estimated $10 billion a year."

Trivedi has been at UCSD since 1995, but his work in the transportation sector dates back to before 1979, when he got his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Utah State. In the 1980s he taught at Louisiana State University and the University of Tennessee; at both schools, he consulted with Japanese railways on robotics to detect and repair rails.

Since transportation is one of the core "layers" addressed by the new California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, Trivedi is heavily involved as Cal-(IT)'s layer leader for UCSD. In that capacity, he's teaming up with counterparts at UC Irvine to forge a combined research agenda that will speed up and enhance the new technology each campus might otherwise develop on its own.

On Oct. 19, Trivedi hosted the first Cal-(IT) workshop on intelligent transportation ("smart roads") and telematics ("smart cars"), with more than 100 attendees from auto companies, other industrial partners, Caltrans, research funding agencies as well as UCI, UCSD and affiliated organizations. He took the opportunity to introduce workshop participants to MIA (picture at right)—the "mobile interactive avatar" built in his lab. The mobile robot is equipped with a two-way video interface able to beam pictures back to a control room from an accident scene via high-speed wireless Internet lines deployed on the UCSD campus. Together with other wireless equipment now under development in Trivedi's lab and elsewhere, MIA could one day become the cornerstone of an elaborate network of cameras, sensors and robots along highways to make "intelligent" roadways a reality.

Meanwhile, with all the research he's now overseeing, not to mention almost daily contact with companies and organizations interested in the outcome of his projects, Trivedi still finds time to teach. Undergraduates get the benefit of his expertise in machine intelligence, while the outgoing professor gives his graduate classes insight into computer vision. Says Trivedi: "Teaching and research are intertwined."

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