Cal Poly to Launch Initiative Tackling Issues, Envisioning Smart Communities

SAN LUIS OBISPO — A team of Cal Poly faculty members have begun work to pilot the Smart Campus Initiative with the use of a digital twin for Cal Poly’s campus. A digital twin is a virtual representation of an area, which uses real-time data to enable better understanding of the area and its constituents and provide that information for informed decision-making on issues including campus space management, student activities, and classroom scheduling.

Amir Hajrasouliha of the City and Regional Planning Department will lead the project along with Department Head Jeong Woo and Professor Joseph Cleary, both of the Construction Management Department, and Amin Malek Mohammadi, formerly of the Electrical Engineering Department and now a professor at CSU Bakersfield. 

The team plans to collaborate with DxHub, AWS at Cal Poly and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cal Poly, as well as partners in industry, including Autodesk Corp. and Virtual Engineering and Construction (VEC) Corp. Future phases will include working with William Siembieda of Cal Poly’s City and Regional Planning Department, and Dennis Sun in the Statistics Department. 

The immediate focus of the Smart Campus Initiative will be to better understand how real-time data collection can help address issues faced at Cal Poly and at other universities, including space management and campus life. The team is also looking into ways the technology can be used to assist efforts to ensure campus community members’ health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the team hopes to expand the digital twin campuswide, they hope the data collected can be used to address multiple challenges at Cal Poly.

“For example, the number of individuals in a building at a certain time can be shared with the university’s Facilities Services office to monitor energy usage in a building, or shared with enrollment managers to ensure that available space is being maximized,” Hajrasouliha said. 

Data collected during the pilot project and its expansion will be depersonalized to protect community members’ privacy, and the team plans to make the deidentified data or aggregated data available to the campus community so that students and faculty can use it for their own research. Additionally, the smart sensors and other hardware selected for the project were chosen for their encryption and security functions and ability to deidentify information to protect privacy. 

In the long term, the Smart Campus Initiative team hopes that Cal Poly can serve as a model of a smart campus for other universities and entities with goals of becoming more livable and sustainable. 

“The Smart Campus Initiative is an exciting step toward the future for Cal Poly,” said Renee Reijo Pera, Cal Poly’s vice president for Research and Economic Development. “There are so many issues faced by universities across the world related to space and facilities that could be addressed using data collected through this initiative, and we have a chance to be a leader in higher education through this technology.”

The project is funded through Cal Poly’s Strategic Research Initiatives (SRI) program, a partnership between Academic Affairs, Research and Economic Development and University Development, as well as the College of Architecture and Environmental Design. The SRI program identified proposals from Cal Poly faculty and staff that addressed problems facing the Central Coast, California and the world as a whole that also placed an emphasis on the role of undergraduate and graduate student research experiences. 

For more information about the SRI program, visit

Contact: Keegan Koberl

November 10, 2020

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