Get to Know the SFC Researchers

Below, you’ll find interview profiles for SFC researchers in order to learn about their current research work, information on their research groups, and how they got interested in freight transportation and logistics research. We hope that this outreach activity will motivate students to know more about SFC and help communicate our research to a broader audience.

Models of Transportation Patterns for more Sustainable, Reliable, and Effective Systems – 2021/10/7
Written by Dina Elhanan

Professor Matt Roorda
Canada Research Chair in Freight Transportation and Logistics
Professor at the University of Toronto in Civil & Mineral Engineering

Professor Roorda teaches and works on research in freight transportation and logistics with his graduate students while sometimes collaborating with other universities and the industry.

Professor Roorda started out completing his undergraduate civil engineering and society degree at McMaster before doing a Masters and eventually completing his PhD at UofT. When I asked about Professor Roorda’s experience at McMaster, he recounted the reason why he chose Civil engineering and society being that the program allowed him to take a look into the ways that people interact with infrastructure along with having electives in geography and urban planning which he was particularly interested in.

During Professor Roorda’s graduate studies, he focused on developing simulation models of how people make decisions on activities and travel and how those decisions affect transportation and traffic. This can be seen in the paper “A Prototype Model of Household Activity/Travel Scheduling” which was written along with Eric J. Miller who supervised Professor Roorda’s graduate work. This paper describes TASHA, a prototype activity scheduling micro-simulation software model that creates activity schedules and travel patterns for all typical family members in a household in a typical 24-hour workday. This simulation model is currently being used by the City of Toronto for long range forecasting planning purposes.

I also asked Professor Roorda about the effect that quarantining the past year has had on traffic due to the uptake in uses of delivery services. Professor Roorda has been working with McMaster’s very own Professor Elkafi on assessing the impacts of e-commerce and home deliveries on emissions and safety in residential neighbourhoods, especially for services like Amazon that offer same day delivery. Professor Roorda told me that this type of delivery specifically causes sustainability issues since it will most likely be a almost empty truck of deliveries sending your package instead of waiting longer for different deliveries to be sent in the same truck.

Read more about Professor Roorda’s Micro-simulation research

Another notable area of Professor Roordas work is in congestion. His work focuses on reducing the impacts of illegal parking on traffic in downtown areas since most parking is either unavailable or for a cost. Some solutions he is exploring include reserved stop areas for couriers and the possibility of shifting daytime deliveries to nighttime where traffic is less congested. Another part of this area of his research explores using electric cargo tricycles instead of trucks which may reduce emissions and traffic.

Fun notes:

Throughout the interview I had my own questions that I also asked Professor Roorda out of curiosity. You can find them here 🙂

  • “What was your favourite course during your undergrad at McMaster?”
    • First year chemistry in the Burke Science building’s main auditorium with his professor who he recounted would always have fun experiments with explosions and color changes to describe topics they were learning about
  • “What extracurricular activities did you do during your undergrad?”
    • Intramural Basketball, lots of squash, got married in 3rd year and did a research project on the importance of the internet on research [what a throwback!]

Analyzing Data and Simulations for Safe Interactions Between Trucks and Vulnerable Road Users – 2021/10/12
Written by Dina Elhanan

Alia Galal is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Toronto working under the supervision of Professor Matt Roorda

When I spoke with Professor Roorda and asked him for a graduate student to speak to that does similar research to his work, he nominated Alia as a good person for me to interview. Currently, Professor Roorda is one of Alia’s supervisors for her PhD work which involves “coming up with new training for truck drivers to enhance ability and skills in anticipating hazards from pedestrians.”

Alia started out with an bachelor’s degree in industrial and management engineering from the Arab Academy for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Egypt.

In her current research which is a joint effort between the Civil Engineering and the Industrial Engineering departments at the University of Toronto, Alia is focusing on ensuring that interactions between trucks or transportation vehicles and vulnerable people using the roads these vehicles pass through such as pedestrians or cars. A part of this research is trying to help creating a new type of training for incoming truck drivers on how to get better at identifying dangers that come up because of people in and around the route that truck drivers take. Alia is using a truck simulator to see particularly what issues arise during the routes of these trucks and transportation vehicles.

I asked Alia to describe her work process while working on this research and she described having two types of meetings, one where she individually speaks with her supervisors bi weekly and another which a group meeting consisting of the research team of students like herself talking about their individual projects that they are working on. Since they are all working on innovations in transportation, there is sometimes some overlap and they are able to help each other and collaborate. Alia’s focus out of everyone in the group is safety.

For the full four years of her PhD candidacy, Alia will be working on this project and finalizing it in order to obtain her PhD. All of this research is done alongside coursework in order to complete her doctorate starting in second year where the research project kicks off.

See Alia’s presentation at the SFC symposium on her work

Fun notes:

Throughout the interview a few interesting things unrelated to Alia’s research came up! 🙂

  • She’s a mom! Alia described a busy schedule of balancing home and work life which was really inspiring to me.
  • Alia has collaborated with the transportation industry during this project by partnering with a truck driver training school. In order to learn about the shortcomings of the current training given to truck drivers, she is interviewing students from this school to collect data for her project.

Analyzing Pedestrian Behaviour using VR for Safety and Efficiency of Automated Vehicles – 2021/10/12
Written by Dina Elhanan

Professor Bilal Farooq
Canada Research Chair in Disruptive Transportation Technologies and Services
Associate Professor at Ryerson University in Transportation Planning, Travel Demand Analysis, and Urban Transport Systems.

Professor Farooq started out as a student at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, Pakistan then went on to complete a Masters at Lahore University of Management Sciences and a PhD at the University of Toronto. Currently, Professor Farooq currently teaches courses in Urban Transport Systems, Travel Demand Analysis, and Transportation Planning.

When I asked Professor Farooq about why he chose Transportation Engineering for his PhD as someone with a Masters in computer science he said that his answer during his PhD interview was, “for me, the traffic on transportation networks it looks similar to packet traffic on computer networks – the only difference I see is that on computer networks if a source is not behaving well and sending too many packets we drop their packets – but you cant do that to vehicles so it’s a more interesting problem and that’s why I was more attracted and intrigued by this type of engineering.” I found this comparison very interesting due to the accuracy of how these networks are reflected in the physical world.

Professor Farooq’s research area currently focuses on mathematical modelling and software simulations for behaviour modelling looking at travel patterns and effects on transportation that people have in urban settings. This also covers the impact these actions will have on things like where builders decide to building, what type of housing would people like to live in, what type of commutes would people have as a result of housing preference and more questions around urban areas.

The models that Professor Farooq helped create during his time at Polytechnique Montréal are currently being used for real-world scenarios and are helping cities function better. While pursuing his PhD, Professor Farooq helped create a model that is currently being implemented in the GTA + Hamilton area to provide the city with detailed answers to “if” questions that may come up during planning for things like construction projects. This simulation was used to optimize placement for certain buildings and also for planning timetables of transportation. You can read the paper Professor Farooq with the help of his supervisors at that time for this model by looking for “Simulation based population synthesis” in the “Transportation Research Part B: Methodological” journal published by Elsevier Science.

During his time at Ryerson, a piece particularly interesting research that Professor Farooq participated in was using VR to allow people to react with autonomous vehicles as pedestrians and collect data and behaviour on those human – autonomous vehicle interactions which will help regions plan for the future and how to integrate autonomous vehicle technology into streets.

Read Professor Farooq’s paper on using VR for interactions involving automated vehicles in simulations of real life scenarios

Fun notes:

Throughout the interview I had my own questions that I asked Professor Farooq out of curiosity. You can find them here 🙂

  • I asked Professor Farooq if he thinks that drones will be used in the future as a delivery system and what the effects of that possible future would be since I noticed that a common factor in these interviews is the mention of drones. Paraphrasing the conversation;
    • He strongly believes there is a potential for drones delivery system despite certain shortcomings right now. There are still some unknowns in regulation that need to be figured out but as a concept it has a strong potential a lot of research going on for enabling this – at Ryerson there was a thesis on wind profile prediction. Drones are small and effected by changing wind speeds greatly especially if running downtown because Venturi effect on wind due to buildings so they developed wind speed prediction models and can be used in the operation of these drones. The Venturi effect describes how wind’s velocity increases if its forced into a smaller opening which happens in cities when wind moves from open areas to places like between taller buildings. This would affect flight patterns of drones and must be taken into affect when planning the routes for these drone in the future. Professor Farooq’s work provides that data and insights that will be used once these technologies are more commonplace for transportation things like food delivery or online shopping. The enabling technology for this system is being developed and maybe in less than a decade the policies would catch up and we’d be able to deploy these systems based on drones.
    • In Toronto right now there is a company called Tiny mile that has a sidewalk robot called Jeffery (pink robot) that is doing runs in downtown Toronto and you can see it (there are videos) so these things are happening already so |the important thing as transportation system designers and planners is that we foresee them coming and develop and underlying system that can provide the level of service that can improve people lives
  • I also asked about the relationship between transportation, delivery and the effects that COVID had on delivery services.
    • His work has been pre-COVID the amount of ongoing work that he had already that was already at capacity so they didn’t do too much work related to COVID. Only did an ongoing project with town of Innisville north of Toronto just south of Barrie and by Lake Simcoe and they don’t have public transit they teamed up w Uber to have Uber run the public transit service so on a normal day they would run normal vehicles with shared mobility options. Now w COVID trips are single person trips so he teamed up w Uber and Innisville given data and has been looked at how mobility patterns have changed due to COVID and single passenger rules and how external variables for instance COVID infection rate government policies and vaccination have influence travel patterns there

Models and Algorithms for Smart Mobile Locker in Tandem with City Buses – 2021/11/10
Written by Dina Elhanan

Si Liu is a Ph.D candidate at the DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University working under the supervision of Professor Hassini Elkafi

Si Liu’s main research interest is data-driven optimization with various applications in management. Breaking this down, this means that Si uses emerging delivery technology, in particular a self-developed novel delivery alternative named Smart Mobile Locker in tandem with City Buses (SML-CB) to make sure that last-mile delivery in the supply chain management is running efficiently, sustainably, and more.

After getting his bachelor’s degree in Process Engineering at Zhejiang University in China, Si pursued a Master’s in Energy Engineering and a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands then Michigan Technological University in the US, respectively, before he joined McMaster University in the Fall of 2019.

Now Si is mainly working on his Ph.D. thesis looking into solving different managerial problems with innovative models and algorithms associated with applying SML-CB which combines smart parcel lockers with the city buses so that customers can pick their packages up at bus stops during the berthing time (the time during which the bus is waiting at the stop).

There are many potential advantages of this proposed solution and sustainability comes first. Currently, delivery services providers like Amazon currently use numerous delivery trucks to implement the last mile deliveries of Business to Customer (B2C) parcels to each individual, and the size of the trucks’ fleets are to increase to meet the exponential growth of B2C parcels. This produces extra emissions as well as generates extra traffic flow in the busy downtown areas.However, picking up packages from a bus at a bus stop would reduce these externalities. THe buses would be making trips to these bus stops anyways so adding a locker onto the bus would not add any emissions. The SML-CB targets those who live within walking distance of bus stops, and recipients only need to walk to the bus stop at designated times set by a mobile app for SML-CB when buses are approaching.

Another big benefit that this solution brings is lowering costs. People are hired for traditional delivery services to operate the vehicles that deliver these packages to people’s homes. In SML-CB, nobody needs to be hired  to implement deliveries and SML-CB can run trips without interference. SML-CB also has the potential to solve the illegal parking of delivery trucks that happens in densely populated areas like cities since no parking of SML-CB is needed except the bus berthing.

Right now, Si’s work includes but is not limited to:

  1. figuring out the feasibility, applicability, and the benefits of this solution along with predictions that show how SML-CB would play out in real life. This includes running surveys to see if people are willing to participate in this and if not, what incentives would get people to participate?
  2. How will the SML-CB be routed, and the packages be allocated through modelling? (i.e. how would delivery services determine what route to placing the package and at what time? What technologies could help with this process and planning?)
  3. How can these models be solved through new algorithms in an efficient way?

Si also discussed how this may benefit small local businesses. This is particularly interesting in these times where COVID-19 has severely impacted small businesses which have adapted mostly to rely on delivery. This would make it so a logistics system would let the small business know where and when to drop their package into SML-CB on a bus and have it arrive at another stop where the customer can pick it up within a small walking distance from their home. This cuts out food delivery fees with apps that are currently used since nobody needs to be paid for their time and gas to delivery these smaller packages to and from the small business. Si has been working with Purolator and HSR (the Hamilton city transit) to collect information and plan for this project and what it may look like.

Si also told me about his supervisor, Professor Hassini – interview coming soon!,is Si’s supervisor and has facilitated a lot of connections between Si and partners from the industry along with preexisting organizations to implement this proposal. Si mentioned his appreciation of Professor Hassini’s help and involvement in Si’s work.

See Si’s presentation at the SFC symposium on his work

Using Emerging Technologies to Optimize Supply Chains for Performance and Sustainability – 2021/11/10
Written by Dina Elhanan

speaker at podium, gestures with hands
Professor Hassini Elkafi
Vice Chair of the Smart Freight Centre
Research Director at MiSCAN lab
Professor of Operations Management at McMaster Unviersity’s DeGroote School of Business
Former Editor-in-Chief at INFOR journal

Professor Hassini Elkafi is currently the Vice Chair at the Smart Freight Centre and teaches at McMaster University’s DeGroote of Business.

Professor Elkafi started out with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering from Bilkent University in Turkey. After completing his undergraduate degree, Professor Elkafi completed a Master and Ph.D at the University of Waterloo in Management Science which was a part of the Engineering department at the school.

Currently, Professor Elkafi is working within the SFC to look into last mile delivery which a term describing the movement of goods from the transportation hub to the destination. This part of the delivery process is usually rushed due to tight delivery dates for services like Amazon where customers expect their packages to arrive within 24 hours. Professor Elkafi is examining the environmental impact this type of delivery has in particular the impact to the neighbourhoods that these deliveries are made to. The issues that arise with traffic congestion within those neighbourhoods and on route to those areas.

Outside of research with the SFC, Professor Elkafi works on sustainability projects in the supply chain context. Particularly, he’s working on finding ways to evaluate sustainability across different companies using different metrics and standards. This is important since a common supply issue Professor Elkafi mentioned in the interview was sweatshops and labour practices in the supply chains of major companies such as Joe Fresh. Professor Elkafi’s trying to figure out how to capture those inconsistencies or deviance from good supply chain practices and how to detect them before a tragedy, like the Aswad garment factory fire, happens. He described that these instances usually occur when companies working between those factories and shops don’t communicate about bad working conditions. This is a particular issue with some supply chain networks (which basically means the connection of different businesses, programs, and policies that make up the movement of goods like things you order online or information for example with postal delivery).

Professor Elkafi has also worked with reducing food waste in various projects. He’s worked with the Burlington Food Bank to insure that fresh produce gets to food banks which usually only receive non-perishables by coming up with models to convince supermarket chains to donate fresh foods early before it becomes too difficult for food banks to store, manage, and distribute those goods. Food banks receiving foods from supermarkets is a huge logistics issue due to the fact that it’s mostly unskilled volunteers working at these storage and distribution centres for the food banks receiving a lot of items from supermarkets that the food bank must sort through, check, and then store and distribute before the expiry dates of these foods. Supermarkets have the capability of doing this sorting process much more efficiently and should be the ones baring the responsibility of organizing the way they donate food much better as to not overload these food banks. Professor Elkafi is coming up with models to ensure this happens. Another interesting food waste supply chain solution Professor Elkafi is working on is using Internet of Things (IoT) to detect food waste in farms. This type of food waste occurs when farmers deem produce to not be visually appealing or “quality” and so these items are left to rot because they might not be sold as easily. By the time the “good” produce from these farms reaches supermarkets only to be thrown out when not bought if there is  a surplus, the carbon emission foot print is much larger due to the food waste that happened at the farm and then later at the supermarket. IoT devices can send real time information on produce as it is growing at or leaving the farm to see what improvements can be made to reduce food waste at this level.

Read Professor Elkafi’s paper on using data analysis to figure out how sustainable some supply chains are

Fun notes:

Throughout the interview a few interesting things unrelated to Professor Elkafi’s research came up! 🙂

  • There’s an image that researchers all work in labs, what does your work environment look like?
    • Professor Elkafi describes his work environment other than his office being computer labs for certain software that are used in models, numerical worka dn other technical details for his research or for helping Ph.D students that he works with. As a part of helping the graduate students that work with him, Professor Elkafi also describes his work, especially more recently, being made up of also writing grant applications for things like computer labs or graduate student scholarships.

The researchers’ profiles were created by Dina Elhanan, an undergraduate student in Engineering Physics at McMaster University. Dina’s outreach work was supported by funding from an NSERC Alliance grant and the CLUE initiative.