UCT professor to spearhead rethink of e-mobility ecosystem

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 19 Jan 2022
Professor Marianne Vanderschuren, UCT’s civil engineering professor and president of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering.
Professor Marianne Vanderschuren, UCT’s civil engineering professor and president of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering.

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) civil engineering professor Marianne Vanderschuren, an expert in transport planning and engineering, has been appointed as research chair of SA’s smart mobility initiative.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and National Research Foundation (NRF) have jointly established a research chair in smart mobility, billed as the first of its kind in SA.

The chair will contribute to human capital development, the advancement of key areas in smart mobility and developing a clear plan for the translation of research into impact.

The collaboration entails jointly working towards the research, development and training for smart transport systems in SA and across the continent.

With a PhD in intelligent transport systems from the University of Twente and an MSc in systems engineering policy analysis from Delft University, both in the Netherlands, Vanderschuren is the UCT Department of Civil Engineering’s only female full professor, and the faculty’s deputy dean for transformation.

She is also the new president of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering for 2022.

Commenting on her new endeavour, Vanderschuren says: “I am excited and honoured to have been selected as the SARChI Chair in Smart Mobility lead researcher.

“Through the additional research capacity provided by the NRF/CSIR, I aim to twin the opportunities that new technologies provide to the day-to-day transport challenges in South Africa and beyond, thereby improving the lives of current and future generations, the environment and the economy.”

According to the CSIR, this initiative will enable the local e-mobility ecosystem to share expertise to accelerate technology solutions in South Africa’s sector. It will further develop the skills required to design, construct, maintain and rehabilitate the extensive roads network in SA, which is vital for accessibility and mobility of its communities, and in support of economic opportunities.

It notes this will undoubtedly contribute to improving and advancing economic activity.

Professor Sue Harrison, UCT’s deputy vice-chancellor of research and internationalisation, says the SARChI Chair –as a strong collaboration between the CSIR and UCT –is a welcome opportunity that will make a significant impact on society and its well-being, businesses and the environment.

“The appointment of Vanderschuren further catalyses a rethink of the country’s transport system and mobility, necessitated by challenges such as ageing civil engineering infrastructure, rising fuel costs, the impact of fossil fuels on the environment, and the need for safe roads and public transport, especially considering South Africa’s large pedestrian sector.

“It is an astute and vital investment in our public transport knowledge base to provide locally-relevant intelligent transport system solutions. I look forward to seeing some truly innovative work and insights in this area in the coming years,” comments Harrison.

Dr Thulani Dlamini, CSIR CEO, says mobility – in the broad sense of the movement of people and goods – is a key enabler of socio-economic development, and a coordinated and integrated response to improving the national, regional and continental ability to move people and goods is therefore essential.

“Modernisation and new technologies have the potential to facilitate innovative responses to mobility challenges facing the continent,” Dlamini explains.

“In 2019, the CSIR created a smart mobility cluster as one of the strategic pillars of the organisation to address challenges and opportunities associated with transport and freight logistics, transport equipment, transport infrastructure and passenger transport services.

“The ultimate goal is to improve the efficiencies and cost-competitiveness of the sector. Hence, this research chair marks a significant step forward for the CSIR.”