Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Partnering with UW students to provide real-life experience

By Angie Millar

Forging ahead through the difficulties of a remote-learning environment, University of Washington engineering students completed a project that could change the way we maintain infrastructure.

As part of our partnership with the UW, earlier this year, mechanical and electrical engineering students designed a small remote-controlled vehicle that can be used in cramped spaces, specifically to inspect culverts. With several culvert failings statewide each year, we are working to improve our ability to maintain current infrastructure by investing in new solutions like the HydroCUB bot designed by UW. Culvert failings can lead to flooding, sinkholes, and other environmental issues.
The HydroCUB bot designed by UW students can easily work in small spaces allowing
for better inspection of culverts and bridges.

Building a better bot
To inspect culverts, we currently use a remote-controlled vehicle bot called the HIVE bot, which has a few flaws students hoped to improve on. The HIVE bot runs on WiFi and cannot operate if it is out of range. The camera used on the HIVE bot also has limited mobility and sits too close to the ground.
The HydroCUB bot is able to operate without using WiFi. It also is equipped with a better camera to give inspectors improved views of potential issues, and has more speed control to allow for more precise operation.
Work on the HydroCUB bot project will continue in 2021 when UW students will complete two prototypes, one of which we will keep to use to improve our culvert inspections.

The work students completed would typically be done in a laboratory with in-person guidance. However, the pandemic pushed students, engineers and professors to adopt a virtual approach. In 2021, another team of students will work virtually on building two prototypes of the HydroCUB bot, one of which we will use to inspect culverts and even bridges.

A hands-on partnership
This work is an extension of the partnership we have with UW through which some of our hydraulic and environmental design and construction experts mentor and guide civil and environmental engineering students working on their final projects. We provide a list of possible projects to the professor— Faisal Hossain – which often include fish passage improvement work, and they pick one or two best suited for students to get involved with. Students work on teams for these industry-sponsored projects and then present the finished work to peers and professionals.
The partnership between our construction staff and UW civil and environmental engineering students is typically done in person but the pandemic has moved the partnership online, where students present their final projects virtually.

This type of project-oriented work provides students with hands-on experience interacting with industry professionals that not only helps them learn, but also to get a job in the field of their choice after graduation.

Students at UW and Washington State University also assist in collecting and analyzing data for various research projects. This helps transportation agencies get valuable information about projects, equity and more. Every summer the Data Science for Social Good program brings students from different schools around the nation together to work on in-depth projects.

Research projects involving both graduate and undergraduate students occur in a wide variety of subject areas ranging from Connected Vehicles and other Intelligent Transportation Systems, to examining how to reduce the frequency of wildlife-vehicle collisions, to more environmentally-friendly snow and ice control systems and water runoff treatments, to the design and construction of more seismically resistant bridges and more environmentally sustainable paving materials.

Past projects included an analysis of the equity of the use of I-405’s Express Toll Lanes, the Seattle Mobility Index Project and improving transit services using ORCA data. This program provides recent data that can assist agencies in tailoring their approach, solutions and work for communities.

We also have a popular internship program where most students work in our engineering offices and Traffic Management Centers. However, we also have roles within other offices such as environmental, real estate services, tolling, human resources, and even in our ferries engine rooms.
Taylor Lenderman interned at our Bellingham office this past summer, working on a variety of projects as part of our popular internship program.

Similar to our mentorship of university projects, interns are able to get hands-on experience developing practical solutions, better preparing them for careers.

For more information about career opportunities and internships, please visit us online.