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Innovative, sustainable transportation modes inspire bold engineering research ideas at ERVA visioning event

The event brought together more than 80 researchers and technology experts to ideate over two days

Nov. 3, 2022 — Beyond today’s planes, trains, ships, and automobiles, the future of transportation requires new infrastructure, networks, and modes to get from point A to point B. This week, researchers from academia, industry, and government sectors convened to identify priorities for engineering research to address sustainable transportation networks at a virtual visioning event coordinated by the Engineering Research Visioning Alliance (ERVA), a U.S. National Science Foundation-funded initiative.

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The ERVA visioning session was structured to spur creative, bold thinking and gather future-focused research ideas from innovators and researchers in a range of transportation specialty disciplines.  A thematic task force co-chaired Erin Santini Bell, University of New Hampshire, and Cathy Choi, ClearFlame, who also serve on ERVA’s Standing Council, structured the proceedings over two days to identify specific areas that are at the edge of the thought horizon or are underexplored and require additional research and have the potential for the greatest return on investment.

“The ERVA platform is a springboard for interdisciplinary thinking, custom-designed to bring together the minds and expertise to address a complex challenge like transportation,” Bell said. “The ideas this group synthesized will plant the seeds for the engineering community to develop innovative approaches for a smart, community-centered, resilient, and sustainable future.”

ERVA visioning events provide a unique opportunity for selected participants to advance the goal of catalyzing the pursuit of innovative, high-impact research that benefits society and the planet. The participants considered new transportation vehicles, networks and modes that emphasize efficient energy usage, produce low or no emissions, utilize alternative materials and novel construction and manufacturing processes, enhance the efficiency of freight and logistics, and leverage appropriate levels of automation and connectivity. Safety, affordability, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in mobility are characteristics considered essential to drive the positive impacts on social and economic conditions that will benefit society.

“This was a tremendous opportunity to integrate innovative and diverse engineering research perspectives to address one of society’s grand challenges," Choi said. “Bold thinking lays the foundation for us to stay at the forefront of engineering and technology by identifying tomorrow’s ideas, fostering transformational engineering research, and laying the groundwork for our next generation of great engineers.”

Event participants were identified and invited based on their research and expertise and represent scientists across academic disciplines, geographic location, organization sector and type, gender, race/ethnicity, and career stage. Specific themes explored include infrastructure, vehicles and transportation modes, engineering research in data to support future transportation networks, and systematic engineering practices to improve transportation needs for all communities.

ERVA was established to provide the engineering community with a process for identifying bold and societally impactful engineering research directions that will place the U.S. in a leading position to realize a better future for all. It is an engaged, inclusive, multilayered partnership, providing a truly diverse array of voices with the opportunity to impact national research priorities.

The results of the proceedings will be distilled and disseminated via a thematic report that will help set priorities for the future of engineering. The report will include high-value findings that will identify less-explored, basic and use-inspired lines of research ripe for the engineering community to pursue to enable a future with optimized transportation via land, sea, air, and the next generation of travel modalities.

Learn more about this visioning event and the work of the thematic task force, and sign up to receive updates and the results report.

About ERVA

The Engineering Research Visioning Alliance (ERVA) is a neutral convener that helps define future engineering research directions. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Engineering, ERVA is a diverse, inclusive and engaged partnership that enables an array of voices to impact national research priorities. The five-year initiative convenes, catalyzes and enables the engineering community to identify nascent opportunities and priorities for engineering-led innovative, high-impact, cross-domain research that addresses national, global and societal needs. Learn more at

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