RTU Creates a New Study Course to help Traffic Engineers Gain Skills Deemed Necessary in the Future Labor Market

27th of October, 2023
Associate Professor Māris Gailis, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Transport and Aeronautics, RTU. Photo: Vitālijs Vinogradovs, RTU

Traffic flow planning, modeling of traffic safety, and other processes that require large amounts of data analysis are some of the skills that future land transportation engineers will soon be able to master. The development of a new RTU study course is underway, which will promote the acquisition of high-level digital skills and the use of supercomputing technologies in transport systems.

With the project «Acquisition of high-level digital skills in Latvia in the field of high-performance computing technologies» (project No., implemented by RTU in cooperation with the University of Latvia and Riga Stradins University, new study modules and the respective courses are currently under development. These modules will be integrated into the study process during the next school year and will also be used to help train those employed in the industry.

RTU Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Transport and Aeronautics (MTAF) associate professor Māris Gailis is developing the study course «Parallel computing in transport systems, » which will allow undergraduate land transport students to learn programming skills, in particular the «Phyton» and «Julia» programming languages. 

«Seeing the real work of engineers, nowadays it is no longer possible to live without programming. Without these skills, they will not be valuable employees of the future, » he said.

From traffic improvement to rocket fuel

«When developing the course, I consider students' abilities, interests, the fact that they have chosen to study mechanics, transport-related issues, rather than computer science or programming. Therefore, they will learn programming not as a science, but its practical application in the transport industry, » Dr. Gailis explained.

In creating the course curriculum, Gailis utilizes foreign experience, along with knowledge and contacts gained through participation in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) program for educational leaders, which is implemented by the RTU Riga Business School with the support of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). 

For example, various rocket fuels and carbon-free fuels such as hydrogen are currently the focus of foreign scientists around the world. At Princeton University in the USA, researchers are modeling different scenarios for hydrogen use using supercomputing resources. 

Meanwhile at MIT, one of the most famous motor laboratories in the world, scientists have authored renowned books about internal combustion engines, and components for battery prototypes are being obtained through pyrolysis and tested in the laboratory. In parallel, various processes are also modeled using supercomputing and the Julia programming language. Another MIT research group is working on mobility initiatives, such as analyzing California traffic data to determine the typical distances between vehicles in traffic flow at different times of the day, and to model future scenarios. 

«What would happen if more cars with autonomous control took part in the traffic - will it be necessary to increase or decrease the distance between vehicles, how will this affect the overall flow and safety? A very large amount of traffic data is obtained every day, so without high-performance computing it would be difficult to analyze it,» Dr. Gailis added.

Traffic data analysis is one of the concepts that Dr. Gailis intends to take over from his foreign colleagues and include in the new course. 

The goal of the project is to increase the number of specialists in Latvia with high-level digital skills (DigiComp level 7-8). According to Dr. Gailis, this skill set includes the ability to analyze data from previously unknown databases. He noted that a large amount of data is obtained in Latvia, from which valuable information could be obtained for improving traffic organization or safety; for example, in connection with the ambitious Rail Baltica project. 

«This is a clear example of why a transport engineer needs high digital skills, » he finished. 

The RTU associate professor is committed to improving the student experience

Modern study content and processes are not static. Instructors must be able to respond to the students' needs, interests, abilities, and the speed of which information is retained. Educators must make sure that each task is understood, and students acquire new knowledge and skills. It requires the active presence of the teaching staff while giving the students enough freedom to try, make mistakes and learn on their own. The biggest challenge is to find a way to not scare away  students who have not chosen to connect their professional life with ICT technologies, instill the belief they can learn to program - that it is not an unnecessary difficulty.

«I ask to create simple algorithms and write code fragments, then to evaluate each other. If something in a colleague's work does not seem to work or is wrong, then a solution should be found for him. This method is effective - students who struggle to solve problems in their work can improve the performance of their colleagues. The group cooperates, cooperates, and thus everyone improves their knowledge, » Dr. Gailis said, who has a strong interest in learning methods to enhance the student experience. Incorporating his own knowledge, he borrows elements from social sciences and medicine, to be introduced in the training of future engineers. 

Thereby, through participation in the «Learning high-level digital skills in Latvia in the field of high-performance computing technologies» project, Dr. Gailis has more opportunities to meet and network with specialists from other fields as well, enriching both himself and offering students new methods and techniques. 

One notable example that highlights the need for universities to set their sights on the cutting-edge of global science and technology and constantly improve the content of studies is the rapid development of artificial intelligence. 
Dr. Gailis believes that you should not deny or ignore the emergence of AI but learn to use it meaningfully. In addition, students need to have the background knowledge to define what tools or open access libraries are needed to instruct the AI to use to write usable code. «New tools and ideas are constantly emerging, the process of improving studies is endless, » he added. 

The goal of the «Acquisition of high-level digital skills in Latvia in the field of high-performance computing technologies» project is to increase the number of specialists in Latvia who can use high technologies to develop knowledge- and technology-intensive new products and services in various sectors, as well as to create higher education, science and industry synergies that drive innovation with maximum commercialization and export potential. The project is financed by the European Union's Recovery and Resilience Mechanism investment. 


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27th of October, 2023 at 8:43

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