College Names Larry Head 2016 da Vinci Fellow

University of Arizona College of Engineering honors trailblazer in advanced transportation.

Larry Head, a University of Arizona professor of systems and industrial engineering who is renowned for his research in connected vehicles and intelligent traffic signal control, has received the 2016 da Vinci Fellowship from the College of Engineering. He will use the award to expand students’ research opportunities and the UA’s reputation as a major center for transportation research.

“This award will allow me to engage one of our interdisciplinary senior design teams in developing an app to help visualize the real-time operation of our research, so the public can better understand our demonstrations and get excited about the future of transportation,” Head said. “The College of Engineering has many outstanding researchers making significant contributions, so it is very humbling to be selected as the da Vinci Fellow this year.”

Each year the College selects one member of the faculty to receive the award for excellence in teaching or research. The fellowship includes a one-time grant of $10,000 to support work in either area.

“It is highly unusual for a faculty member to be truly outstanding in all aspects of teaching, research, service and leadership,” said Young-Jun Son, professor and head of the UA department of systems and industrial engineering and one of the many who nominated Head for the fellowship.

Ahead of the Curve

Da Vinci Fellow Larry Head will use his 2016 award to get more students involved in connected vehicle research.Head received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in systems engineering from the UA in 1983, 1985 and 1989 and started teaching in the department of systems and industrial engineering, or SIE, in 1989. He left academia for a few years to direct intelligent traffic systems research for Siemens and Gardner Transportation Systems. He rejoined the faculty in 2003 and was SIE department head for seven years before handing the controls to professor Young-Jun Son in 2014.

Head has been principal investigator on over 10 major projects in intelligent traffic-control systems, including the Arizona Connected Vehicle Test Bed, a live prototype system on streets in Anthem, a suburb north of Phoenix.

He and his graduate students, in partnership with the Maricopa County Department of Transportation and Arizona Department of Transportation, have developed a multi modal intelligent traffic signal system that uses vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications -- connected vehicle technology -- to provide intelligent traffic signal control and priority for special classes of vehicles -- emergency, transit, trucks, and pedestrians and bicycles to improve safety and mobility.

Head’s published papers on his research have received several top awards, including a prestigious D. Grant Mickle Award -- his second -- from the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in January 2016.

Outreach and Oversight

da Vinci FellowsHead has served as the chair of the National Academies Transportation Research Board’s Traffic Signal Systems Committee and co-chair of the National Transportation Communication for Intelligent Traffic Systems Protocol Signal Control and Prioritization Working Group. As a voting member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, Dedicated Short Range Communication Technical Committee, he is helping set national standards and protocols for connected vehicles systems.

In March 2016, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Head to the state’s new Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee.

Head has advised transportation officials and agencies regionally, nationally and internationally. He is working to establish a Universitywide transportation research program at the UA that will engage researchers in engineering, public health, emergency medicine, statistics, information systems, behavioral science and law and policy.

Dedicated Teacher and Adviser

Head was the faculty adviser for student papers that received Best Paper Awards from the Intelligent Transportation Society of Arizona at three consecutive annual meetings -- “a clear indication of his ability to motivate and mentor students to excellence in preparation for their academic or professional careers,” Son said.

One of those best paper co-authors is Mehdi Zamanipour, master’s and doctoral student in industrial engineering at the UA who has spent the past year at the Saxton Transportation Research Laboratory at the Federal Highway Administration’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in Virginia.

“I didn’t know anything about advanced traffic systems before coming to the UA,” said Zamanipour. “I’ve learned so much working with Larry Head. He is a practical person who works to make a tangible improvement in peoples’ lives.”

“Dr. Head is a very supportive adviser who cares a lot about his crew and knows how to teach them the right way of doing research,” said SIE doctoral student Shayan Khoshmagham.

“Working on Anthem’s implementation phase, I’m able to observe in the real world the impact of every single line of code and software I wrote. It’s a very good feeling to see how I can make a positive change to a real traffic system.”

SIE doctoral student Sara Khrosravi is developing a smartphone application to help visually impaired pedestrians cross “connected” intersections more safely.

“I am interested in improving human lives as an engineer, and transportation is all about making people safer and more comfortable in their daily lives,” she said. “I am so lucky to be a member of Dr. Head’s research team.”

The da Vinci Fellowship is supported by the UA College of Engineering da Vinci Circle, the giving society supporting College scholarships and research.

2016 da Vinci Student Scholars

Each year, the College of Engineering also awards da Vinci student scholarships to at least 10 exceptional students. This year’s winners are:

da Vinci Scholars


Top picture: Professor of systems and industrial engineering Larry Head, recipient of the College of Engineering’s 2016 da Vinci Fellowship, and PhD student Sara Khosravi demonstrate their connected infrastructure and vehicle technology. Photo by Pete Brown.