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University of Canterbury academic recognised by IBM

University of Canterbury academic recognised by IBM

A proposed course, developed by a University of Canterbury academic and aimed at providing future engineers with the skills to manage modern transportation engineering problems, has received backing from one of the world’s largest technology companies.

Dr Kenneth Kuhn (Civil and Natural Resources Engineering) has been awarded a Smarter Planet Faculty Innovation Award by IBM. He is one of only 50 academics worldwide from 40 universities to receive the award.

The awards, worth US$10,000, were set up by IBM to help universities develop innovative curricula that address the global challenges of transportation, health care, water, energy and other systems.

Dr Kuhn’s award was for a proposed course he had developed called “Improving Transportation System Efficiency and Safety through Asset Optimisation”. IBM will make Dr Kuhn’s course notes and materials publicly available through its Academic Initiative.

“The idea behind the course was that a lot of the challenges associated with managing transportation systems today require balancing competing objectives and also require data analysis,” said Dr Kuhn.

“One of my favourite examples is when an airline pilot chooses a route to fly in an area where there is bad weather. The pilot and airline want to minimise how much fuel they use, but also the risk of making passengers uncomfortable. An air traffic controller has to ensure that the decisions of different pilots don't lead to conflicting flight paths. Decisions might be influenced by passengers' flight connections. The problem can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Another example would be figuring out when to change traffic signals. This sounds like quite a different problem, but again you need to trade-off safety and efficiency to some degree.”

Dr Kuhn said decisions should be based on data describing what happens in different situations.

“Transportation domain knowledge is the most important but expertise in areas like probability and statistics, mathematical programming, economics and computer programming is very helpful for addressing modern transportation problems. I think companies like IBM realise this and are trying to influence how transportation engineering is taught.”

Dr Kuhn said he was “very proud” to receive the award.

“I have only been an academic and an educator for a little over two years. One of the things that I think is great about this job is that I'm constantly learning - from my colleagues at Canterbury and elsewhere, as well as from the students. A lot of what I learned went into the proposal I provided to IBM.”

Nominations for the 2011 Smarter Planet Faculty Innovation Awards are now open. IBM has announced the 2011 awards will focus on Smarter Commerce, Smarter Communication and Smarter Energy.

IBM's lead for the Academic Initiative in Australia and New Zealand, John Schilt, said “building a Smarter Planet starts with developing future leaders who understand the value of how information technology can be applied to create real insight into data and organisational performance”.

Nominations for the 2011 awards will remain open until 1 September 1, with all proposals due on 7 September 2011. More information can be found at


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