From the first training weeek, TRUSS has encouraged team work amongst ESRs. Network-wide events have served to promote cooperative learning by making ESRs to work in groups towards providing solutions to a specific case study or meeting the aim of a particular module. Ultimately, ESRs get used to work together and to combine their individual strengths to deliver a superior outcome. The latter has contributed to make them better team players and to build relationships further strengthened via social networking activities. As a result, there is a number of publications jointly co-authored by more than one ESR. Beyond that collaboration in publications, some ESRs have taken the initiative of preparing and submitting funding research proposals of their own. This is the case of Federico Perrotta (ESR13) and Siyuan Chen (ESR14), who together with Taotao Zhou in Maryland, presented the proposal “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) – based automated road inspection and damage detection” to the call for U21 Graduate Collaborative Research Awards that closed for applications on the 1st August 2017. Federico and Siyuan applied for 12 months funding in a collaborative project across three U21 institutions (UCD, UNOTT and University of Maryland) in three countries (Ireland, UK and USA) with funds up to $5,000 to be used towards virtual meetings, laboratory consumables, fieldwork costs, travel and accommodation and IT that would enhance their TRUSS outputs (peer-reviewed publications, patents, exhibitions, etc.).
Their project proposal is based on the importance of the safety of a community’s road network for an efficient public transportation system, which it is highly related to its economic prosperity. Therefore, such networks must be inspected and maintained on a regular basis. The primary approach has been the in-person inspection, which has considerable limitations such as generation of traffic interruptions, reliance on expensive and/or heavy equipment, and the creation of safety risk for inspectors. Based on current research by the three institutions and others, Siyuan, Federico and Taotao aim at linking UAV-data acquisition, Computer Vision and Machine Learning to explore a better inspection method for public road network safety. In addition to a technical project description, the proposal included sections on project management plan (how the project will be carried out and who will do what), development and training opportunities (how this project will enhance the professional development and training of those involved), expected project outcomes and outputs (with names of conferences and journals), and requested budget (including breakdown of all costs: research, travel, etc…).
U21 Graduate Collaborative Research Awards is a funding scheme designed to develop lasting professional relationships between researchers and research teams within the U21 network. Therefore, the preparation of the proposal has helped Federico and Siyuan to understand how to define a research project and to gain experience in applying for its funding, while strengthening their network and career prospects.