Computer Science Collaboration Earns National Prize

Natural Sciences3 MIN READ

U.S. Department of Transportation recognizes Stacy Doore’s autonomous vehicle research

Stacy Doore
By Kristen Shen ’24Photography by Gabe Souza
August 24, 2022

The Autonomous Vehicle Research Group (AVR), a collaboration among the University of Maine, Colby College, and Northeastern University, finished third in a national competition for assistive technology development projects that help people with disabilities access autonomous transportation.

Stacy Doore, the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Computer Science, represents Colby in the collaboration working with Nicholas Giudice and Richard Corey (VEMI lab, UMaine) and Shelly Lin (HEEPS lab, Northeastern).

The group’s project, involving a smartphone app, was selected as one of 10 semifinalists in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inclusive Design Challenge and received a $300,000 cash prize in 2021 to be used for Stage 1 development work. The winners of the final round of the competition were announced July 26, 2022, with the AVR group winning third place and an additional $300,000 for their work on the Autonomous Vehicle Assistant (AVA), an app designed to help with trip planning, traveling to pick-up locations, and boarding vehicles, according to the Department of Transportation.

Each institution in the AVR group has specific expertise as well as a general focus on applications of emerging technology for accessibility. Doore specializes in natural-language directions for non-visual navigation and spatial language systems designed to assure smartphones are able to communicate with autonomous vehicles.

“I hope that this project and the prize can raise awareness about the need for fixing the accessibility features in systems that exist now and, more importantly, for planning for the systems in the future that make sure they are accessible from the beginning.”

Stacy Doore, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Matthew Maring ’22 helped develop AVA’s navigation component using GPS mapping, augmented reality, LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors, and haptic cues. After spending the summer of 2021 as a research assistant in Doore’s lab, Maring decided to pursue an honor thesis on the topic with Doore’s assistance.

Up to a dozen Colby students work with Doore in her INSITE lab during the academic year. “Watching students get excited about computer science, doing research, and mentoring them to pursue different types of assistive technology questions are truly joyful parts of my job,” she said. Doore hopes to use the newly awarded prize to further develop the project and offer more research opportunities to Colby students.

Just as she has integrated her research about agile robots in public places into existing courses, Doore plans to incorporate concepts of the AVA project into future courses. Both projects relate to her interest in assistive technologies and spatial language use in non-visual navigation.

Previously, in her advanced-level course Database Design, Development, and Deployment students chose to develop databases to collect and stream information from the agile robot. She also piloted a module in the Computing Ethics and Society course about finding ethical and responsible ways to introduce emerging technologies (i.e. agile robots) into diverse communities of stakeholders. Her students spent several class sessions working on developing responsible computing policies and practices for her INSITE lab.

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