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Reaching New Levels of Automation

The concept of autonomy has already generated a significant amount of public interest. From thermostats to robotic vacuum cleaners, autonomous technology is already permeating our daily lives.

For civil and environmental engineering, autonomy encompasses the use of artificial intelligence, data, materials and robotics to revolutionize the methods of design, construction and operation of the built environment and the management of resources. Autonomy is transforming conventional infrastructure to smart infrastructure, allowing for robust decentralized infrastructure systems. It is reshaping our mobility systems and catalyzing new mobility services and business models.

Rapid developments in other engineering fields are opening doors for new levels of autonomy in civil and environmental engineering. Automated vehicles interacting with instrumented highways, adaptive water and energy utilities that respond to changing demands, exoskeleton-empowered skilled workers capable of exceeding human endurance, and autonomous robots and equipment performing dangerous tasks involved in constructing civil infrastructure are now all within the realm of realization.

The evolving proliferation of autonomy in civil and environmental engineering promises the emergence of new career opportunities that require a workforce with the skills to confidently apply new technologies across civil and environmental engineering domains. This necessitates a broad, multidisciplinary education in civil and environmental engineering that also trains future students in interdisciplinary areas related to computer science, data analytics, control, economics and business.

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What is autonomy?

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 Autonomy across our department.


  1. 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. 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. 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. 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.


Neda Masoud receives NSF CAREER Award

The National Science Foundation award supports junior faculty projects that integrate research and education.

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    More efficient testing method could accelerate the deployment of autonomous vehicles

    A new paper in Nature Communications discusses improvements over current testing methods.

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    $9.95M for “smart intersections” across Ann Arbor

    Technology embedded in existing infrastructure will provide data to connected and automated vehicles, bolstering safety.

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    The Importance of Mobility Education: A Q&A with Jim Sayer, PhD

    We need to expand the way we think of mobility in terms of not only what affects ourselves, but how the way we move affects the overall system.

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Featured Faculty

Vineet R. Kamat

Vineet R. Kamat

Construction Robots


(734) 764-4325

Yafeng Yin

Yin Yafeng

Engineered Cementitious Composites, Connectivity & Automation, Pricing Infrastructure


(734) 764-8249

Henry Liu

Henry Liu

Connectivity & Automation, Online Education: Foundations of Mobility


(734) 647-4796

Neda Masoud

Neda Masoud

Connectivity & Automation, Online Education: Foundations of Mobility


(734) 764-8230

Sherif El-Tawil

Sherif El-Tawil

Human-in-the-loop Design, Next-gen Resilience Modeling, Virtual Reality Disaster Simulation


(734) 764-5617

Branko Kerkez

Branko Kerkez

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


(734) 647-0727

Peter Adriaens

Peter Adriaens

Online Education: Foundations of Mobility, Building Blocks, Master of Engineering in Smart Infrastructure Finance, Blockchain at Michigan, Business Connections


(734) 763-8032

Jerome P. Lynch

Jerome P. Lynch

Urban Sensors, Urban Collaboratory, Urban Collaboratory Projects


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Autonomy on Twitter

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