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Reaching New Levels of Automation

Automation will transform civil and environmental engineering through the use of robotics, AI, advanced materials, and real-time control.

The future of civil and environmental engineering is on the brink of a transformative revolution, propelled by the integration of robotics, AI, advanced materials, and sensing, and real-time controls.  At its core, this evolution is exemplified by innovations such as automated mobility, robotic construction, adaptive utilities, and autonomous water systems. Just like self-driving cars, future energy grids, water systems, and construction processes will adapt and optimize their performance in response to changing conditions. These breakthroughs signal a shift towards infrastructure systems that exhibit embodied intelligence by adapting and optimizing their performance in response to changing environmental and societal demands. As automation becomes more ubiquitous, there arises a critical need for ethical and sustainable design. These systems, intimately intertwined with human lives, habitats, and ecosystems, must be developed with a conscientious approach, prioritizing the well-being of both people and the planet.  This evolution of automation is not only transforming the CEE landscape but also reshaping career trajectories within the field. This paradigm shift underscores the urgency to reevaluate and innovate in education and workforce development.

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What is automation?

Associate Professor Branko Kerkez examines the ways that civil and environmental engineers can use autonomous technologies to open up new possibilities.

  • 90%

    Widespread use of autonomous vehicles could eliminate 90% of all car accidents in the US, prevent up to $190 billion in damages and health-related costs each year, and save thousands of lives.

  • $41 trillion

    Over the next 20 years, cities around the world could spend as much as $41 trillion on smart tech.

  • Increase 4x

    By 2025, the number of robots per worker is expected to increase 4x.

Our Approach

Our strategic directions have a broad impact on the way we operate, influencing our approach to research, education and outreach. Explore some examples of how we are implementing the concept of Automation across our department.


  1. Five people in hard hats and safety goggles look towards a piece of equipment with a robotic arm in the foreground of the photo. One points to the piece of equipment.

    Construction Robots

    University of Michigan researchers are designing and building new robots that can adapt to rugged and unstructured conditions, and can work collaboratively with human coworkers to perform a wide variety of repetitive and physically-demanding construction tasks. Here, a U-M researcher inspects a joint-sealing robot that adaptively performs work by self-programming its motion based on the encountered workspace geometry.

  2. An aerial view of the University of Michigan autonomous vehicle testing facility at night.

    Connectivity & Automation

    Vehicle automation holds the potential to substantially improve traffic safety, facilitate mobility and reduce traffic congestion, fuel consumption and emissions. Our researchers investigate how to leverage vehicle automation and connectivity to transform traffic control, facilitate truck platooning and create innovative shared mobility services. Researchers also examine the implications of vehicle automation on highway infrastructure, urban land use and environmental justice.

  3. A person standing in a virtual reality environment manipulating a colorful structure model.

    Human-in-the-loop Design

    The exponential growth in computing power at the disposal of engineers and scientists is resulting in models that produce massive sets of data. Technologies for automated mining of this data are crucial if the full potential of high-fidelity computation is to be unleashed. Our researchers are developing tools for automated human-in-the-loop data mining through virtual reality.

  4. Two people in yellow safety vests stand next to an instrument on the bank of a river.

    Information Flow

    By combining the flow of water with the flow of information, smart water systems have the potential to transform how water resources are managed on a real-time basis. Here, CEE researchers are deploying open source wireless sensors on a surface water system in Michigan. The data are used by local municipalities to manage the ecology of the stream and inform infrastructure investments.


Undergraduate Focus: Smart Cities

The FocusCEE program in Smart Cities allows undergraduate students to tailor their curriculum with an additional focus on foundational computer science that will play a major role in shaping the built environments of the future.

Online Education: Foundations of Mobility

CEE faculty are a part of an interdisciplinary team teaching this continuing education course, which takes a holistic approach to challenges of mobility in cities. This course explores the latest thinking and research on connected transportation systems, autonomous vehicle design and other transportation technologies in the context of their economic, social and policy implications.


Urban Collaboratory Projects

The University of Michigan’s Urban Collaboratory partners with communities to solve on-the-ground challenges. In the area of Autonomy, U-M researchers are partnering with the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) to reduce combined sewer overflows and maximize current storage utilization through real-time sensing and dynamic control. Another project monitors two retaining wall structures in metropolitan Detroit via a wireless monitoring system in order to extract data on load demand for risk assessment.


Jointless ECC Pavement at Mcity Receives Sensors to Monitor, Assess Real-World Conditions

CEE researchers are examining ways to develop unreinforced jointless rigid pavement with improved structural resiliency and durability while reducing cost and improving environmental sustainability using an Engineered Cementitious Composite (ECC).
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    Automation is a field where cutting-edge research is happening at CEE

    Professor Yafeng Yin provided an in-depth perspective on Automation, which is one of CEE’s five Strategic Directions. He recently participated in an interview that explored the many technical, philosophical, economic and emotional components that affect Automation, from its implementation to its growth and acceptance.

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    Automation Drives Transportation Studies to Improve Safety, Fuel Efficiency

    Automation has the potential to improve traffic safety and offer other benefits to drivers, pedestrians and society as a whole. The ability of sensor systems aboard automated vehicles (AVs) to collect and provide information that guides decision-making can reduce traffic accidents and optimize traffic flows.

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    $5M to enable remote, next-generation autonomous vehicle testing at Mcity

    Mcity, which operates the world’s first purpose-built test environment for connected and autonomous vehicles (AVs), will invest $5.1 million from the National Science Foundation to supercharge the facility’s evolution into a test track unlike any other.

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Featured Faculty

Neda Masoud

Neda Masoud

Connectivity & Automation, Online Education: Foundations of Mobility


(734) 764-8230

Henry Liu

Henry Liu

Connectivity & Automation, Online Education: Foundations of Mobility


(734) 647-4796

Branko Kerkez Portrait

Branko Kerkez

The Water Experience, How Cities Work, Resource Cycles, Information Flow, Undergraduate Focus: Smart Cities, Urban Collaboratory Projects, Predicting Performance


(734) 647-0727

Vineet R. Kamat

Vineet R. Kamat

Construction Robots


(734) 764-4325

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