College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Top transportation officials visit Clemson University as new center launches


Top transportation officials visited Clemson University on consecutive days in the last week of March to make a big announcement and to learn more about the cybersecurity research led by Mashrur “Ronnie” Chowdhury.

Chowdhury, the Eugene Douglas Mays Chair of Transportation, and his students met with U.S. Department of Transportation Chief Scientist Robert C. Hampshire on March 28 and the South Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Christy A. Hall on March 27.

U.S. Department of Transportation Chief Scientist Robert C. Hampshire speaks to reporters during a press conference at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

The visits came just a few weeks after Chowdhury and his students learned that the U.S. Department of Transportation had selected Clemson as the home of a new national University Transportation Center (UTC). Clemson researchers will be working with partners from eight colleges and universities across the country to develop software and hardware to defend the transportation system against cyberattack.

During Hampshire’s visit, he announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation was providing $20 million over five years to fund the center. He was joined in the announcement by Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Clemson; Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research at Clemson; and Chowdhury, who is the grant’s principal investigator.

Hall, a Clemson alumna, met with Chowdhury and several of his graduate students, who provided an overview of their research and showed her some of the autonomous and connected cars they use in their work.

Chowdhury has carved out a name for himself in cybersecurity research. He and his students turned campus itself into a testbed, wiring roads with cameras and communication equipment to test their ideas.

Wirelessly connecting vehicles to each other and to the roadway infrastructure holds the promise of reducing gridlock, crashes, fuel use, emissions and social inequities but also opens the transportation system to a host of cyberthreats, researchers said.

They are calling the new center the National Center for Transportation Cybersecurity and Resiliency (TraCR). Partnering institutions are Benedict College, Florida International University, Morgan State University, Purdue University, South Carolina State University, the University of Alabama, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the University of Texas at Dallas.

Hampshire said that because cars and all modes of transportation have computers and embedded communication systems, new ways of protecting the transportation system from cyberattack are needed for personal safety and national security.

“I look forward to the work we’ll do together not just protecting individuals but protecting our country,” Hampshire said. “The UTC headquartered at Clemson is pioneering innovative cybersecurity tools that we need to stay one step ahead of the cyber criminals. They include techniques like quantum computing and quantum cryptography, but also field studies and multidisciplinary approaches. The work done here at TraCR will help keep America safer.”

Accompanying Hampshire on his visit to Clemson was Willie H. Smith, senior procurement executive for the U.S. Department of Transportation. They spoke at Clemson’s Men of Color National Summit just a few hours before making the announcement about the center and then met with University leaders.

Mashrur “Ronnie” Chowdhury

Hall called the research she saw impressive and thanked Chowdhury and the students for the overview of their work.

“SCDOT is committed to protecting the transportation system and ensuring the safety of our citizens while helping them travel the state’s roads as efficiently as possible,” Hall said. “I very much appreciate Dr. Chowdhury and his students for taking the time to show us their work and look forward to exploring future collaborations.”

Chowdhury said he was honored to have Hampshire and Hall visit Clemson and to have the opportunity to update them on his team’s work.

“I thank Dr. Hampshire and Secretary Hall for taking the time to meet with my students and me and to share in our excitement,” Chowdhury said. “The research we are conducting will protect the transportation system from hackers and thieves and provide the next generation of talent to the mobility and cybersecurity workforce. We look forward to continued collaboration with both departments and all of our partners.”

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