Creating Innovative Operational Strategies for the I-STREET Living Lab

By Ines Aviles-Spadoni, Research Coordinator/Marketing & Communications, UFTI

The entrance to the I-STREETTM Lab facilities is located off Gale-Lemerand Road on the University of Florida campus.

The University of Florida, along with its Transportation Institute (UFTI), the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), and the City of Gainesville (CoG), embarked on a journey to create the I-STREET™ (Implementing Solutions from Transportation Research and Evaluation of Emerging Technologies) Living Lab as an ongoing commitment to developing a transportation system in Florida that is safer, smarter, and efficient. 

Through the “Support for the I-STREET™ Testbed,” a project funded by FDOT, UFTI researchers were tasked with developing strategies to enhance transportation safety and mobility through a strategic action plan.  UFTI researchers mapped out a multipronged approach for driving a strategy comprised of research development approaches, industry outreach and engagement, workforce development and education, and public agency engagement.

“This strategic action plan addresses the mobility and safety challenges in Florida’s transportation system by using emerging technologies in transportation,” said Dr. Pruthvi Manjunatha, research assistant professor in the UF Department of Civil & Coastal Engineering. Dr. Manjunatha is also the I-STREET™ Living Lab Manager.

The identification of critical areas for research and development was a significant component of the I-STREET™ strategic action plan. After various meetings with key stakeholders such as FDOT, UFTI researchers identified six areas for future research: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Autonomous Connected Electric Shared (ACES) Vehicle Technologies, Privacy and Cybersecurity, Multimodal Transportation, Digital Twins, and Smart and Resilient Transportation Infrastructure. The I-STREET™ Living Lab will be prepared to tackle the state’s transportation needs by addressing these research areas. It is expected that these six areas and the products they will generate will provide a one-of-a-kind ecosystem for collaboration, research and development, testing, and deployment of technologies related to safety and mobility.

“We believe that addressing these five major research areas is critical to develop the next-generation safe and efficient transportation systems for Florida and beyond, which is well aligned with the FDOT’s mission,” said Xilei Zhao, assistant professor of Civil and Coastal Engineering at UF.

Another essential component of the plan includes reaching out, engaging with, and developing relationships with transportation technology companies. This is important because I-STREET™ is a Living Lab, an environment with open-road testing where e-scooters, pedestrians, bicyclists, buses, and cars all converge, making it the perfect substrate for the transportation industry to develop, test, and deploy their technologies. To do this, the team developed an industry outreach plan to engage with companies. This engagement plan drew from the strategic communication sciences, serving as a blueprint to guide their efforts based on the I-STREET™ Living Lab’s overall goals. The plan included an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges (SOWC). This exercise led to the development of goals, SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) objectives, tactics, key performance indicators (KPIs), target audiences, personas, voice, tone, key messages, proposed events, branded hashtags, website content, and a social media strategic plan.

“A strategic communications plan was an important exercise to undertake,” said Ines Aviles-Spadoni, a research coordinator and communicator at the UFTI. “We need to generate awareness about I-STREET™’s capabilities and services through a well-thought-out approach so that we can encourage transportation technology companies to engage with us,” said Ines Aviles-Spadoni, a research coordinator and communicator at the UFTI.

As part of its industry outreach and engagement plan, UFTI’s I-STREET™ held a series of statewide industry showcases led by Dr. Manjunatha. Forty companies participated in this event, representing a variety of advanced technology products. The industry showcase was spread out over a four-month period in spring 2023. The showcase focused on four themes – data platforms, smart sensors, infrastructure, vehicle applications, and ACES (autonomous, connected, electric, shared). This event aimed to familiarize the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and other public agencies with technologies that have the potential to be tested and deployed on the I-STREET™ Living Lab network of facilities and roads. When public agencies learn about transportation technologies in the private sector, they are better positioned to enhance transportation operations in their communities; it’s a win-win for all.

Another successful industry outreach endeavor has been I-STREET™’s Industry Partnership Program (IPP). The IPP was launched in October 2023. AtkinsRealis, HNTB, iteris, UrbanSDK, and WGI were the first to sign up as I-STREET’s industry partners, and recently, Dewberry, a nationwide planning design, and construction firm has signed on as an industry partnership. Supported through these partnership contributions are activities related to independent research, technology development, innovations in transportation, and student scholarships and fellowships. More on the IPP program can be found at the following link:

Shining a spotlight on technologies in the private sector was undoubtedly an important exercise to undertake, but so is learning about a public agency’s priorities and needs in their respective communities. To do this, UFTI researchers created a public agency outreach plan where, depending on the needs and interests of local agencies, the I-STREET™ Living Lab could serve as a foundation for solving the transportation issues faced by local communities through technology-based solutions. For example, through the I-STREET™ Living Lab, public agencies can test technologies created by transportation technology companies. 

However, new technologies cannot be effectively utilized without transferring that knowledge to the current and future transportation workforce. Researchers working on the “Support for the I-STREET™ Testbed” project created a workforce development and education plan as an approach to this issue. Three audiences were identified as benefiting from this plan: professionals, college students (undergraduate and graduate students), and K-12 students. The educational efforts are expected to teach audiences about advanced transportation technologies, create a talent pool of future transportation professionals, and generate a self-sustaining income stream for I-STREET™ by developing courses, webinars, and an innovations library.  

The I-STREET™ Living Lab represents UFTI’s commitment to transforming the state-of-the-art in transportation by elevating and improving safety and mobility in Florida, and the hard work undertaken by all its stakeholders has paid off.  In Spring 2023, the Florida legislature recognized I-STREET™ exceptional contributions for its innovative technologies and strategies to address transportation challenges and because of its transformative potential in benefitting the state and the global community.

With the action plan in place, UFTI’s I-STREET™ Living Lab will be better positioned to create a legacy of innovation and progress in the transportation technology sector for years to come.  Information on the Florida Senate bills related to I-STREET™ is available at and