Autonomous vehicles (AVs) offer the potential for significant improvements in the mobility, safety, accessibility, and sustainability of transportation systems. As the automotive industry continues rapid advances in the technical domain, there are a myriad of associated social consequences that will result from large-scale deployment. However, these consequences are not well understood, and there is an imminent need to train students in sociomobility -- an area of research at the intersection of engineering and the social sciences.

This Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site at Michigan State University will train future thought leaders for careers that are focused on the development of innovative, multidisciplinary solutions that jointly address both the technical and societal aspects of AVs. The program will: (1) examine social, political, legal, and economic concerns that may affect the widespread adoption of AVs; (2) assess issues related to social equity and the accessibility of AVs to groups with limited mobility alternatives, including adolescent, elderly, low-income, and disabled individuals; and (3) study the implications of AVs on public health, urban planning, workforce development, and the environment. The site will provide research experiences leading to technological advances with potential for near-immediate adoption by public agencies and private industry, while the scientific findings will help to shape emerging policies and programs.

Program: Each summer, ten students will be selected to work with teams of sociomobility researchers on original, interdisciplinary, collaborative research projects at the intersection of engineering and the social sciences. Student cohorts will be recruited with emphases on technical and social diversity, and the program will leverage existing campus resources as part of a robust initiative. The 10-week program will allow participants to play an active and meaningful role in a series of multi-disciplinary projects under the direction of faculty from various departments and programs. These projects will be developed collaboratively with a diverse range of public and private industry stakeholders while supplementing ongoing campus-wide mobility research efforts.

Program goals: Students participating in this REU will:

  • Gain immersive, hands-on experience in addressing sociomobility issues;
  • Furthering their understanding of both the technological capabilities and societal implications of new mobility solutions in complex social systems;
  • Interact closely with top-notch faculty;
  • Work in a tiered mentoring structure that includes direct interaction with faculty and graduate students from engineering and social sciences.
  • Have the opportunity to present their results in a student symposium and a professional conference setting.

Research project areas include:

  • Workforce Impacts of Automated Vehicles
  • Driver Behavior during AV Operation
  • Short- and Long-Term Safety Impacts of AVs
  • Ethics, Morality, and Legal Implications of AVs
  • Evaluating the Environmental Impact of Autonomous Vehicles
  • Addressing Transportation Challenges and AV Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities
  • Health Impacts of Autonomous Vehicles
  • Advancement of Intervehicle Communications
  • Assessing Public Perceptions and Acceptability of AVs Using Social Media Linguistic Analysis
  • Autonomous Vehicles as One among Many Future Disruptive Technologies in Civil Infrastructure

Stipend: Each student will receive a stipend, on-campus housing, and a meal allowance. Financial support for travel to the REU site and to associated conferences will also be provided.

Eligibility: Students from a range of domains including, but not limited to, engineering and the social sciences are eligible to apply. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are still undergraduate students. Women and minorities are particularly encouraged to apply. Applicants must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale).

Social Activities: Opportunities for students to interact socially with each other and faculty include ice cream socials, cookouts, and day trips to attractions such as the American Center for Mobility. University recreational facilities will also be available for participant use (a nominal fee may apply). All NSF-REU and similar undergraduate research programs on campus are closely coordinated with each other with respect to housing and many social and scientific activities.

About East Lansing: East Lansing combines all the charms of a tight-knit community with the bustling activity of a diverse, world-class university town. The downtown area is an energetic retail district bursting with restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and bars, while the suburbs consist of tree-lined streets winding through historic neighborhoods. The Lansing River Trail connects walkers, joggers and cyclists with dozens of parks and local cultural destinations. Summers in East Lansing revolve around outdoor concerts, plays and festivals, including the Great Lakes Folk Festival, the Summer Circle Theatre series, and the city’s signature annual event, the East Lansing Art Festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors.

Questions: If you have any questions about the application process or any general inquiries about the Sociomobility REU, please contact Peter Savolainen at pete@msu.edu  or (517) 432-1825.



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1950794. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.