The Built Environment: Focus of the Final Technion-Cornell Joint Workshop

October 19, 2012
By: Jennifer Frey

Experts in topics as varied as tunnels to skyscrapers gathered on October 15-16 for a Technion-Cornell joint workshop on the Built Environment — the focus of one of the three “hubs” that will comprise the Technion-Cornell Innovation institute (TCII) program. The workshop was the third and last in a series of workshops aimed at sharing research ideas that will inspire collaborative research.

Some 30 attendees from the Technion, Cornell University and industry, including IBM and Intel, participated in the workshop, held at the Cornell NYC Tech temporary Chelsea campus in New York City.

New York City Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway

New York City Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway

Representing New York City was Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway, whose former position as the City’s Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection dovetails nicely with the subject matter at hand. In his remarks to participants he said that the City intends to invest $40 billion in the built environment over the next four years. “How we make it sustainable over the long-term, this is where the applied science initiative gets married up with how New York City is literally going to survive and thrive.” he said.

The workshop also attracted notables from city and state agencies to speak about their work, including Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction, who happens to be a Technion alumnus. Heading up the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $17 billion of transportation mega projects, including construction of the Second Avenue Subway, Mr. Horodniceanu led the session on Civil Infrastructure and Energy. “We have a complex infrastructure of utilities underground … a maze of pipes … an urban spaghetti” plus “buildings that were built in the 19th century that we need to blast around.”

Complementing his presentation, Technion Professor Assaf Klar of the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering shared his research on fiber optic-based sensors that can monitor aging underground infrastructure. Fiber optic technology can provide early warning and exact location of developing problems, leading to improved repair and maintenance of damaged sewer and other systems that can ultimately transform them into environmentally-safe, sustainable systems. Prof. Klar inferred that such smart underground environments could be a reality in the foreseeable future through collaborative research with Cornell Professor Tom O’Rourke (whose expertise lies in the behavior of geographically distributed systems) and local authorities.

In a session titled Simulation of the Built Environment, Technion Professor Rachel Becker spoke about creating buildings with a near zero net energy consumption in the most difficult season of the year, summer. She prescribes a combination of smart lighting controls, natural nighttime ventilation, the shading of southern-facing windows, and the installation of phase change materials (which keep walls at a steady temperature).

Three groups of Technion and Cornell researchers recently received grants from both universities to collaborate on joint research projects. Among those who took part in the workshops was Prof. Lang Tong of Cornell, who spoke about his project with Technion Prof. Yonina Eldar (who was not in attendance) on novel signal processing methods for intelligent energy management in built environments. Prof. Per-Olof Gutman of Technion described his work with Prof. Eilyan Bitar of Cornell on coordinated management and control of transportation infrastructure systems.

“One of the objectives of this workshop is to bring us all together to discuss the main challenges in this field and to identify which problems need to be solved,” said Prof. Craig Gotsman, TCII founding director. “This is very important in an applied science campus, where we aim to find real-world solutions for real-world problems.”

Other Technion researchers participating in the workshop were professors Avigdor Gal, Yoram Shiftan, Tomer Toledo, Dafna Fisher-Gewirtzman, Yehuda Kalay (the Dean of Technion’s Faculty of Architecture), Els Verbakel, and Yasha Grobman.

The Technion’s participation in these activities has been generously funded by Technion Guardians Daniel and Joanna S. Rose.