Researcher Spotlight: Chen-Fu Liao
Chen-Fu Liao is a senior systems engineer at the RSI-affiliated Minnesota Traffic Observatory, a facility of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering. Much of Liao’s research focuses on using intelligent transportation system technologies to help people with vision impairment. He has also conducted research in the areas of incident decision-support systems, database management and data mining, and freight performance measures and developed undergraduate and graduate curriculum to support transportation education and training.
Liao’s interest in technology to help the visually impaired stemmed from his volunteer experience with Vision Loss Resources in Minneapolis. Liao worked with the agency and its clients extensively when developing a smartphone system to assist the visually impaired with crossing streets at signalized intersections. In a 2014 project, Liao’s research team also developed a smartphone app that alerts pedestrians with visual impairment to upcoming work zones and helps them navigate those areas safely. Liao is currently working on an RSI-sponsored project building on this earlier research. The project—A Positioning and Mapping Methodology using Bluetooth and Smartphone Technologies to Support Situation Awareness for the Visually Impaired—will create and test a network of Bluetooth modules that can provide reliable situation awareness and navigation information to help these pedestrians with wayfinding when GPS-based information is unavailable. This self-monitoring wireless infrastructure could also be used to warn sighted pedestrians when they are distracted by their smartphone and entering a busy intersection, Liao says.
Liao’s research will also help combat what he believes is one of today’s most pressing transportation safety issues: distraction. “Distracted drivers and the growing number of distracted pedestrians who are texting or checking messages on their phone while walking or crossing intersections create a serious safety challenge,” says Liao. “Technology can help, but we also need to continue our focus on education and raising awareness of potential danger.”
Liao received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from National Chunghsing University in Taiwan and a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota. Before joining the University of Minnesota, he worked as a product-development engineer specializing in pneumatic linear positioning systems at Tol-O-Matic Inc. He is a member of the Transportation Research Board and the Institute of Navigation, and is also a research scholar with the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.