Photo by Anthony Mair
Pushkin Kachroo has published 10 books, the first of which was called Feedback Control Theory for Dynamic Traffic Assignment. This might not sound like cozy fireside reading, but it’s a good example of why the UNLV professor of electrical and computer engineering is Las Vegas’ most sought-after intellectual in the realm of transportation. The book tells us (and, more important, our public officials) how to use real-time electronic information to improve the flow of traffic—instantly.
As director of UNLV’s Transportation Research Center, Kachroo is overseeing seven projects, most sponsored by Nevada’s Departments of Transportation and Public Safety. These projects include an evaluation of the Interstate 15 South design-build and a look at infrastructures that support plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles. Kachroo sees ecology as the third linchpin of transportation policy, along with safety and efficiency. Carbon emissions and climate change are making it obvious, he says, “that transportation is at the forefront of what happens to the environment.”
But the bulk of Kachroo’s work with state and local transportation agencies still focuses on ways to keep Las Vegas moving smartly and swiftly. More than 100,000 people visit the city each day, joining the nearly two million residents going about their business. The average daily auto traffic at the California-Nevada border on I-15 is 40,000-plus cars. So, Las Vegas needs a hospitality-focused system (taxis, shuttles, etc.) overlaid on a civic infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, traffic signals) that allows everyone to get to his or her destination—preferably on time.
The Valley provides the perfect laboratory for the Transportation Research Center. Brian Hoeft, director of the Regional Transportation Commission’s freeway and arterial system, says Kachroo sought him out, looking for data he and his students could use for research projects. Hoeft was happy to have someone to make use of the statistics his office gathers, since public agencies don’t always have the resources to do the analytical work themselves.
“We get [Kachroo’s] academic perspective, and his students get to address real-world problems, like the impact a crash can have on freeway performance and the economy,” Hoeft says.
Kachroo’s gift for translating complex data into practical applications comes from his unique way of understanding the world. “As a kid, I started out with Dostoyevsky and Sartre, and found it fascinating,” he says. “It made me question what I see. Later on, when I was exposed to math, I realized it’s the most beautiful language that allows me to study everything deeper. … I could work in any field and find it interesting. I find sitting on a chair interesting. You see, it’s only how you view it. The way my weight is distributed, how comfortable it is, and when I do this, I tilt this way. Why? It’s a whole universe out there just sitting on a chair.”
If sitting on a chair is interesting to Kachroo, just imagine how he must experience sitting in an automobile—or on a bus or train—in one of the busiest cities in the country. The possibilities are endless.