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BSU Student Team Places 2nd in FHWA Student Data competition

In December 2021, Computing Ph.D. student Tianjie Zhang competed in the first Data Science for Pavements Symposium 2022 (DSPS22) Student Data competition hosted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The competition calls for the use of artificial intelligence in pavement condition inspection, which is integral to the future of roadway safety. 

Boise State Master’s students Amanda Mullins, Civil Engineering, and Stephen Kim, Computer Science, formed team Mistletoe with Zhang, who acted as team leader. Zhang’s advisor, Dr. Yang Lu, served as the faculty mentor for the team. They competed against ten other teams from around the world to investigate strategies for detecting pavement defects using image and data analysis of top-down view road images. Road condition inspection is an annual, mandatory task for transportation safety done by human workers, and it is time and labor-intensive. By developing an effective digital process for road safety inspections, the FHWA will save time and increase overall efficiency. After a month of dedicated effort, team Mistletoe won 2nd place as the only US team in the top 3. They were then invited to present their findings at the FHWA in Mclean, Virginia on March 23, 2022.

Zhang most enjoyed working with his team and guiding them through the research and project process “…our group needs to focus on data cleaning, data augmentation, and annotation. We need to make our own plans based on the requirements. Make the timetable, write the conference paper, design the slides and prepare the speech script. It is an important experience that we actively do things for ourselves rather than following the teachers’ or parents’ plans.”

Currently, Zhang is working on using Physics-informed neural networks to solve complicated engineering material problems. Before enrolling at Boise State, Zhang earned his Master’s degree in Pavement Quality Control and Quality Assurance. He took courses in data science and machine learning as part of his Ph.D. program, “I try to apply the deep learning methods in road quality control which is also currently a hot topic in the transportation and civil engineering field.” Zhang hopes to continue exploring his research interests and new fields of research once he completes the Computing Ph.D. program with an emphasis in Data Science.