Toxic air and congestion on the road are the grim realities of the metropolitan cities of India. Prof. Lelitha Devi, who has been working in the area of transportation engineering for nearly two decades, believes that a strong push for public transportation backed by technology and policy is required to make it an attractive option for daily commuters. Her team at IIT Madras is working to bring about that change.
Born and brought up in Alleppey, a small district in god’s own country- Kerala, Prof. Lelitha had a humble beginning to her inspiring journey. After schooling, she moved to Trivandrum for doing B.Tech and M.Tech in Civil Engineering from the prestigious Government College of Engineering, Trivandrum. While she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be a civil engineer, in the beginning, what she learned during her undergraduate and graduate program made her love that subject. Masters turned out to be the turning point in her journey and her love for the subject grew while doing the practical and application-oriented exercises in the transportation engineering field. Post her masters, she did a short stint at IIT Madras before she moved to the US for a PhD degree in transport engineering. The PhD from Texas A&M was both enjoyable and strenuous at the same time as she enjoyed the excitement and thrills of research amidst uncertainty involved in the research work. The US was ahead of India in several aspects in the area of transport engineering which allowed her to research topics such as automated sensors, application of machine learning, and intelligent transportation systems. After completing her degree, she was back in IIT Madras where she started as an assistant professor in the transportation engineering division of the Department of Civil Engineering, working in the area of transportation engineering with a focus on India- specific problems.
Funded by the various ministries like Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Human Resource Development, etc. and Industries such as L&T technologies, TCS etc; her lab has worked on creating advanced public transportation solutions such as real time bus arrival time prediction system and dynamic trip planners for daily commuters which helps passengers to plan their journey efficiently with minimum waiting times and delays. Her team has also been involved in modelling the Indian traffic more effectively, on developing sensors for the Indian traffic, and on better traffic signal design. While all these research areas garner her interest, she is most excited about her research in the area of optimization of traffic signals in favour of public transport. She believes that quick green signals to the buses will effectively allow the movement of more people sitting in the bus, making buses more attractive for travelling. On a question on how to relieve congestion, apart from policy decisions that promote public transport and penalizing more than one private vehicle by individuals, making public transport more attractive is what she stressed on. On being asked about the future of the field, Prof. Lelitha says that though self-driving vehicles will revolutionize the transport system, they cannot be imagined to be on Indian roads in the near future, however, soon vehicles may start talking to each other through intelligent systems making the driving experience better.
While Prof. Lelitha’s mind keeps boggling with the new ideas that can change the face of Indian roads, her heart is set on building the future force of transport engineers. For her, the journey of a student from a novice to finally being passionate about this field is gratifying. Beyond academics, Prof. Lelitha loves to read books and enjoys listening to music. She opines that various women STEM schemes do encourage women to be in science but most importantly the mindset of society needs to change as well if we want to retain more women in STEM and see them in a leadership position.
To know more about her research visit her webpage.