Getting from A to B: Using an Interactive Display to Demonstrate Transportation Planning and Design Issues
An ongoing challenge worldwide has been the need to attract sufficient numbers of new people into transportation careers. In trying to explain what transportation engineering is about, many people often find that examples of practical applications are particularly useful. In this way, people can become interested in the problem at hand first and then realize their real-world applications in transportation careers. Recently some funds donated to the Civil and Natural Resources Engineering Dept at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, were used to develop some interactive engineering displays for existing and prospective students. The first exhibit developed was a transportation board display, representing a landscape upon which a new road route was to be determined. The metallic display surface is sub-divided into hexagonal sections, each with a "cost" reflecting the relative difficulty of constructing in that location (e.g. due to mountains, rivers, development, etc). Magnetic straight and curved road elements (each with a value reflecting the costs to road users) can then be placed on the display to create an alignment between the chosen end points. The aim for users of the display is to determine the optimal road alignment, in terms of minimal construction costs, road user costs, or both. Since its creation, the display has been used in various locations, both on campus and at career expos. It has been immensely popular with visitors, many of whom get quite caught up in solving the problems presented. The potential for using this as a classroom tool for maths, science or geography classes at high school has also been identified. This paper outlines the development of the display, its applications to date, and the transportation lessons that it can highlight.