Season 2, Episode 5
[00:00:00] Announcer: The following research is part of the National Institute for Congestion Reduction funded by the United States Department of Transportation through the University Transportation Center Program. Learn more at www.nicr.usf.edu.
[00:00:22] Wayne Garcia: Welcome to Out of My Lane, a podcast of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida in Tampa. I'm Wayne Garcia, your host. I'm with Rakesh Rangaswamy, who is a doctoral student in the USF civil engineering program. He's done quite a bit of work with CUTR because his specialty is transportation engineering.
[00:00:45] Wayne Garcia: Rakesh, welcome to Out of My Lane.
[00:00:48] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Thank you.
[00:00:48] Wayne Garcia: Rakesh received his master's degree in civil engineering from the University of South Florida here in Tampa, where he studied various things related to transportation. All the way from traffic engineering systems, pavement design, asphalt mixes, all the hands on and all the engineering thinking stuff... he's pretty much done it. So, in this episode, we're going to look at Rakesh's journey to his Ph. D. and his various research projects that he has. So again, Rakesh, thank you for coming in this in the second season. We're doing a number of the engineering students who take part in CUTR and really provide a lot of the important legwork research while they're also receiving their advanced degrees.
[00:01:38] Wayne Garcia: So, we start each episode with our icebreaker and the icebreaker is since the pandemic, it's been different for everybody. Tell us about your daily commute to school here.
[00:01:51] Rakesh Rangaswamy: I mean, from pandemic, my commute really didn't change because I was to do data collection. So, every day I had to travel to USF, and I'd given the travel authorization from the DOT to go and collect the data, uh, around the Florida state.
[00:02:07] Wayne Garcia: Oh, so you've been all over the state. So, a daily commute might be a drive to South Florida.
[00:02:13] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Yeah, but now currently I'm working like an internship at the Florida Department of Transportation, FDOT, just right across USF. So, and I stay in 150, just which is across USF again. So, it's not too far. It's just like five minutes commute for me.
[00:02:28] Wayne Garcia: You've got the real easy commute. That's right. And so how did you get interested in engineering of all the things you can do... what appealed to you about that?
[00:02:41] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Okay, so basically my whole family, we are into civil engineering things back in India. So, I'm from India So my dad is a civil contractor, and we have a family business. We do solid waste management.
[00:02:53] Wayne Garcia: Uh huh.
[00:02:53] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, from childhood I'm kind of aware of like all the civil engineering concepts. But however, like as it's a family business, once you like, you know, like after you finish your associates or something like that, they would put you to the family business.
[00:03:08] Rakesh Rangaswamy: But my dad was like, listen here, money you can earn, and it can, it comes, and it goes, but education, it always stays. So, it's very important for you to get, you know, go, like, get educated, go for engineering, look at what you want. Just don't jump into the business and think about money. So, I took a different route in the family.
[00:03:32] Rakesh Rangaswamy: And the familiar, uh, subject was civil engineering for me. So, I was like, okay, let me go take, uh, associates in this and let's see how it goes. And I started, so in India it's called as a diploma. So, I was doing, and my major was construction technology and management. So that's how I started my civil engineering journey.
[00:03:52] Rakesh Rangaswamy: And later, uh, after I graduated my associates, I was working as a structural draftsman, AutoCAD drawings. And I was also tutoring AutoCAD in CAD center. It's in Malaysia and Bangalore. There I met an interesting guy, like he's, like he's a very well-known structural engineer. And he, one day he had come to do like a, like a career fair in the AutoCAD center.
[00:04:17] Rakesh Rangaswamy: I went to him, and I was just, "Sir, I had a couple of questions, like, you know, I do all these drawings, but some of the details I don't understand. What exactly is this?" I asked him. He's like, so, like, "What's your highest degree? I said, uh, associate. Associate. And you do all these drawings? Like, and you don't know what this is?"
[00:04:34] Rakesh Rangaswamy: He was like, "Yeah I'm kind of aware, like, I know what one way slab is, two-way slab, how you give the reinforcements. I'm kind of aware of it, but I don't know, like, in depth. I know only about, like, compression, tension, shear, I know these are the loads which act. That's it." Then he said, "Okay, one stop by my office. We'll discuss more about this and let's see what you have." And I went to his office, then he gave an opportunity to do like a part time job in his office. Like, uh, so I started as a structural draftsman there. After I started drawing, he said, I think after six months, he was like, "You know what? I strongly suggest you do like a bachelors. It's very important for you to know because just associates and knowing the AutoCAD tool is not going to take you like to a long distance..."
[00:05:19] Wayne Garcia: Where you want to go.
[00:05:20] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Yeah. "So, you will have to, you know, take your bachelors." So, I did my bachelors and later I was like, okay, next is masters. And I just applied for University of South Florida, and I came here.
[00:05:34] Rakesh Rangaswamy: But how I got into transportation, that's more interesting.
[00:05:38] Wayne Garcia: Well, then, then tell us, because, you know, of all the different genres or subfields in civil engineering, and there are plenty of them, how did transportation show up in front of you?
[00:05:50] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, I initially, I applied here for structural engineering. But here and there in my first semester, I was taking transportation classes too because those are some of the requirements also.
[00:06:03] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, I was taking a couple of their classes. I think it was Dr. Pei-Sung Lin's class. So, I was like taking this class and it was answering to a couple of my questions, which I had from the childhood. I had some questions like, how do these signals operate? From red to yellow to green who decided it. Okay, we have the speed limit.
[00:06:24] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Who is telling me to follow this 45 MPH? Like okay, this I- 75 like I came to United States like it's there's this I 75. There's this I 275 like who built all these roads? Who are the people behind all these things? And the best part was I didn't see any traffic engineer like traffic police. Like, usually, you know, back in India, there will be a traffic police who will be, like, directing everyone.
[00:06:51] Rakesh Rangaswamy: But here, I didn't see anyone. In a four way stop, without signal, people, they would just stop. I mean, they would yield. Let the other person go and they would go, I was like, wow, this is like, interesting. Like, who, like, how do they make all these things happen here? And this subject, which I was taking with Dr. Pei-Sung Lin, it was answering all those my answers, which I had, like, this is how you calculate, you know, the speed. This is how we decide the speed limit. It was traffic engineering. Then I started taking more classes. And one day I stopped to him, and I said, "Sir, like, is there any job opportunity in this field?"
[00:07:28] Rakesh Rangaswamy: He said, "Why don't you stop by my office? Let's see what we have." And he took an interview. He said, "Okay, we have some graduate research assistantship. If you are willing to do, let's see what you have. So, let's see how it goes with you." I started working on a small project and that's how my transportation journey started.
[00:07:46] Wayne Garcia: Oh, wow. The mysteries of the universe were revealed to you. That that had to feel great. So now we skip ahead. You get your master's degree and now you're working on your PhD and doing lots of research working with some of the CUTR professors. So, let's talk about some of the projects that you have done and that you're working on.
[00:08:08] Wayne Garcia: So, your most recent one it looked like was about wrong way drivers. And for those listening who are not in Florida, although this is not just a Florida problem, but it does seem to be, we have a lot of them in the Tampa Bay area.
[00:08:23] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Oh, that's true.
[00:08:24] Wayne Garcia: And it's a very bad problem. People getting on highways the wrong way.
[00:08:27] Wayne Garcia: They're either impaired, they're lost, something happens. So, you have been working on a research project looking at wrong way drivers and whether various treatments or, or, you know, barriers or different things are effective in cutting down on the number of people who get on the highway going in the wrong direction.
[00:08:47] Wayne Garcia: How did you get started on that project and tell us a little bit about how the work has progressed?
[00:08:53] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Okay, so, I mean, currently I'm working on this wrong way driving. It's a FDOT project, but Dr. Pei-Sung Lin again, so under his guidance I'm working on this project. As you know, like wrong way driving, uh, it's a rare event.
[00:09:08] Rakesh Rangaswamy: It doesn't happen, you know, like frequently like other crashes. So, it's a rare event, but still like the fatalities or anything, it's a little higher when you compare. I mean, if you really look at this wrong way driving. Imagine like you are watching a TV with your, like with your wife or something and you fall asleep.
[00:09:26] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, if she wants you to wake, she will like either wake you up or like call you by name and wake you up, right? Like, "Hey, you're missing the scene. Come on, see." So same way, that's how, so right now wrong way driving, there are like, uh, FDOT, like other DOTs have taken so many countermeasures to find a right way to make these drivers be attentive that they're in a wrong way, going in a wrong direction by posting those signs or like giving the speed limits or giving some warnings or something.
[00:09:55] Rakesh Rangaswamy: But still DOT is like, "I think we should find some other ways to make these drivers little attentive". So now I will connect to that TV thing, which I was saying. So, we were like thinking, how about we make these drivers, you know, like make them little attentive by making some noise through some noise or through some vibration.
[00:10:15] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, we're like, okay, because most of the time wrong way drivers, like who are not distracted, they will see the sign and they will get on the right way. But some of them are like, maybe they were, they're impaired by alcohol or like they're inattentive. They're distracted. Yeah. They're on their phone. So, they need to be like made aware of that they're going in the wrong direction.
[00:10:36] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, we are using this particular like a strap. When these drivers go on whatever the posted speed limit or like higher than the speed limit. So, it vibrates the whole vehicle and also it makes a noise, and it makes them, uh, like it makes them attentive and like to know that they're in a wrong way and they can look around and say, "Oh, I'm in a wrong way."
[00:10:58] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So that's so one of the countermeasures. That's one of the like subtopics of this project, which I'm working on. So, we tested in Pinellas County. I mean not outside the road yet. Yeah. Yeah, in the test beds we are trying. We tested in the D7 also, D7 office also. And we have got pretty good results from that because the vibration level or the noise level, it's good and it's going on...
[00:11:22] Wayne Garcia: Enough to snap people out of that reverie, whatever that is.
[00:11:26] Wayne Garcia: Distraction, drunkenness, you know, maybe they're having a medical event of some kind and they can't really figure it out. There's a lot of different reasons. Everybody kind of thinks it's…it's not always that it's there's other things. So, when does that project finish up? Are y'all going to be testing out on the actual roads?
[00:11:44] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Eventually? Yeah, I mean, testing on real road. It's going to take some time because you know, anything happens, the DOT is going to be liable. So, it's going to take some time. Yes, safety first. So, we need to test first. We're using different types of vehicles like driving on different types of you because as you we see that or even motorcycle vehicles.
[00:12:04] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Everything makes a difference with the noise because the tire size is different. Everything is different. So, and in the morning time, evening time, like we have to test for like so many scenarios. Before we say, "Hey, this is a right countermeasure."
[00:12:20] Wayne Garcia: And it can save lives.
[00:12:21] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Yeah. Because we are going to use at the end of the day, taxpayer money, right?
[00:12:25] Rakesh Rangaswamy: It has to be used in a right way. So that's why it's going to take a couple more, you know, like months.
[00:12:33] Wayne Garcia: That seems like a lot of responsibility for a fairly young guy looking and this segues me into where I wanted to go next, which a lot of your work has to do with safety. It's not just kind of. issues or planning issues, it's directly involved with saving lives.
[00:12:52] Wayne Garcia: So how does that make you feel in terms of your mission as an engineer?
[00:12:58] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Oh, as you said, this is a responsibility. Luckily, I have really good colleagues and researchers like Center of Urban Transportation and Research. Like there are really some experienced people sitting there who guide you. You won't even thinking that line. So, they will show you, hey, actually, did you see, like, you can also find a solution in this way. They guide you very well, finding solution in different ways for this problem and they'll teach you like what all are the different ways You can actually see this problem like a user side from a researcher's side, from an investor's side, from a DOT's side.
[00:13:34] Rakesh Rangaswamy: How do you see this problem? So, if you go take this to the public, how are you going to convince, hey, whatever I've done is right. How are you going to do that? Yeah, that's what they teach you in the Center of Urban Transportation and Research. And I feel like transportation engineering is more than what I was like thinking, because it's...
[00:13:56] Rakesh Rangaswamy: It's like, it's so much equal to other first responders, like how they save lives. So, we are also like directly or indirectly, we are responsible for saving lives. We make an impact on others, you know, life because we help them creating guidelines, how we are to drive or see their crash report, see the trends like transportation engineering is a lot.
[00:14:19] Wayne Garcia: So, you've done a number of other projects and, and I'm not going to read them all out here, but what's been your favorite work that you've been involved with since you've been a graduate student here at the University of South Florida?
[00:14:30] Rakesh Rangaswamy: I mean, there are two. Two. I have two favorite projects.
[00:14:34] Wayne Garcia: Okay, that's fine. You're allowed.
[00:14:36] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Okay. Work zones, crashes in work zones, because that's my PhD topic too.
[00:14:41] Wayne Garcia: Okay.
[00:14:41] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So that's my favorite. So, what we are doing is we tested a device, it's called Active work Zone Awareness Device. So, this device has a radar. It's like a dynamic speed feedback sign. So, it will see what speed you are going in.
[00:14:57] Rakesh Rangaswamy: And it will catch that speed and it will start if you are over the speed limit, posted speed limit during the work zone, it's going to give you some feedback. And also there will be signs saying, hey, like there is a law that you will have to go slow, or you'll be fine, something like that. And there will be also blinkers which will keep constantly blinking when the work zone is active.
[00:15:16] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, what we did is like we tested this device. On different part of Florida roads, mainly arterial roads, because there is so much research done on highways, freeways and all. But in arterial roads, there are still more research needs to be done with work zones. So, we wanted to test if this device has an impact on drivers before entering the work zones.
[00:15:38] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Because in work zone, there are workers who are working. So, we want to make sure even they are safe in the work zone area and also there are not any like major crashes. So, we what we would do is like we would place this device before the work zone starts like what was the standard distance. And we would collect data in two points while the vehicle is a speed spot data while they're entering the work zone before the entire the work zone and when they're in the work zone.
[00:16:06] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, like this I collected, I think like seven sides. So, uh, during the whole pandemic, that's, that was my job.
[00:16:13] Wayne Garcia: Were you out on the highway?
[00:16:14] Rakesh Rangaswamy: I was on the highway. Yeah. Okay. So, we had the sensor, smart sensors, which we like that, that was my job. Like early morning, go eight o'clock put the, uh, before the peak hour traffic starts, put the sensors and also put cameras in these two spots and keep seeing.
[00:16:30] Rakesh Rangaswamy: And keep changing the camera, you know, like the memory whenever it gets, and Florida has so hard. Sometimes this camera would, it would just turn off because of overheating. So, it was really interesting.
[00:16:43] Wayne Garcia: It's like a winner project, but you have no choice, right?
[00:16:47] Rakesh Rangaswamy: It also got a couple of awards. It was recognized in a federal level too.
[00:16:53] Rakesh Rangaswamy: That was nice. Like the D7 was awarded like. I don't know exactly what that award name was, but they were awarded something for taking this initiative and testing this device.
[00:17:05] Wayne Garcia: And I think most of us, as we whiz by at 80 miles an hour on a highway, and there's some construction, we don't always be as considerate of those people working.
[00:17:13] Wayne Garcia: That's going to be terrifying. I mean, I've actually, back when I was a newspaper reporter, I've been out there on those sites and you being on the ground on, on a highway or on arterial road or anything. is so much scarier than, than being surrounded by all this metal as you're driving. So that sounds great.
[00:17:34] Rakesh Rangaswamy: That's why we also tested the device with different scenarios. We had device itself with no device, device with sheriff, with law enforcement, how, how the drivers would respond. The device plus law enforcement gave us the best result because all these drivers were slowing down to 25 MPH before even, they started entering the work zones.
[00:17:57] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, the workers also felt safe and also the drivers.
[00:18:00] Wayne Garcia: They're not always looking over their shoulder, which probably is a little more productive for them in terms of getting their jobs done. And then you said you had a second favorite, what was that one?
[00:18:10] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Oh, it was automated pedestrian detectors, so that I tested in and around USF campus itself.
[00:18:16] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, DOT was interested to know that are pedestrians because pedestrian crashes like they are vulnerable users. The crashes were little high, fatality rate was little high at some point. So, they wanted to see what exactly is happening outside, especially in the near the intersection or like non intersection area.
[00:18:35] Rakesh Rangaswamy: What exactly is happening? Are these pedestrians pushing the push button? Because most of the time as a pedestrian, you would feel like, "Man, I'm pushing this forever. Nothing's happening here." So., we came up with a solution. How about you don't have to push it. You just go stand there and there will be a sensor which will detect you and the signal phase will automatically get activated.
[00:19:01] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So that was the solution, what we did. So, we had this automated pedestrian detectors we put in like designated intersections and we saw first, we did a study where how many pedestrians were pushing the push button before they started using the crosswalk. And after that, we put the sensors and checked, we tested for different scenarios, like using an umbrella during the rain, like different conditions again.
[00:19:27] Rakesh Rangaswamy: And if we have a, for example, if we have a person, like disabled person in a wheelchair, so if he comes, or if he's wearing like a hoodie, or is it still going to detect you? So, we did, we did so many scenarios and we did the research, and we got some good results too. So, they work actually, but still little more technology and we need to work on the technology to implement them on the.
[00:19:52] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Yeah, on the larger scale, because so many intersections, that's so much investment.
[00:19:58] Wayne Garcia: Yeah. And so, you find this great research, but then, you know, public policy has to catch up to it. So welcome to the wonderful world of public affairs. You've been down this journey. What would you say to a young person? Who is thinking about a career in engineering, maybe even transportation engineering.
[00:20:16] Wayne Garcia: What advice do you have to them?
[00:20:19] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So literally we were having this expo, engineering expo, last weekend. I'm also a member of like student ITE chapter, Institute of Transportation Engineers, USFITE. So, we were having this traffic signals and controllers and we were explaining all the students. Like how signal works, you know, how big the signals are like five feet, but you think it's just like three feet or two feet signals, but that's so big, that's so massive.
[00:20:44] Rakesh Rangaswamy: And I was telling them what civil engineering, it's more than you think, because civil engineering is just not building the houses or doing some constructing the bridges or like, you know, how we deal with drainage. We deal with environmental issues. We do air trafficking, transit, you name it, we have so much responsibility, you know, we need so many people to work on all these different fields.
[00:21:14] Rakesh Rangaswamy: And all this comes under civil engineering. So, I was like saying, once you graduate, you should really take a look at this civil engineering once. Wow. And you might find something interesting, which like I found transportation engineering was very interesting for me. So now we have autonomous vehicles.
[00:21:32] Rakesh Rangaswamy: So, you will also get opportunity to work with different fields, like with electrical engineers, which are programmers. So, you will learn so much, even in civil engineering, like taking the civil engineering. So, I encourage everyone to once take a look at civil engineering and there are so many fields within civil engineering, and you should take them all and make a change.
[00:21:55] Wayne Garcia: You know, and especially we've talked about in a previous episode last season, about attracting women into engineering. How, how was the expo crowd of young students? I know I saw some video of lots of young kids and there were lots of girls and boys there as well. So, do you, was there a lot of excitement for, for engineering and STEM?
[00:22:18] Rakesh Rangaswamy: No, that was actually surprising because I think a couple of, I don't know if they're parents or like teachers of those two kids, I think they found it interesting when I was showing, uh, controllers like how the signal works, how the phases work. I think they went and informed the other students, and they were actually, I was in the downstairs lobby there looking, "Hey, so where is the signal thing? We want to check it out. I was like, wow, then I would take them and show them all the signals. And actually, like students were like, wow, now I'm not going to see the roads the same way. I know, like I know something.
[00:22:56] Wayne Garcia: That's awesome. Well, we've been here with Rakesh Rangaswamy, who is a PhD student here at the University of South Florida in civil engineering, does a lot of work with the good folks at CUTR who bring you this podcast.
[00:23:12] Wayne Garcia: So, for Rakesh again, thank you so much for coming in. It's been a delight to talk to you.
[00:23:17] Rakesh Rangaswamy: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for giving the opportunity and this is my first podcast, you know.
[00:23:23] Wayne Garcia: Very good. Well, very happy to give you that opportunity. I'm Wayne Garcia. I'm your host. This has been Out of My Lane. And we look forward to seeing you next time on the streaming platforms of your choice. Thanks so much.
[00:24:03] Announcer: The National Institute for Congestion Reduction, NICR, is a transportation research center focused on innovative congestion strategies. The center is composed of researchers from the University of South Florida. Florida, the University of California, Berkeley, Texas A & M University, and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, and funded by the United States Department of Transportation.
[00:24:25] Announcer: For more information, please visit www.nicr.usf.edu.