In the area of transport planning, Vonu’s work is on the connections among transport, society and technology with the view that mobility in cities of the future will require planners to jointly consider social, infrastructural and technological challenges. She has focussed on “smart” public transport, bicycle and pedestrian active transport, as well as in connected/collaborative/shared transport systems. Her research has considered the needs of a wide spectrum of travellers including low-wage workers, seniors, persons with disabilities and young adults and her work links social equity and human capital considerations to the labour market, safety, well-being and other outcomes experienced by travellers. She is interested in the potential of Information and Communications Technology to improve livability, learning and engagement in cities and on the effective use of Big Data for urban planning, policy and business innovations.
More recent work in this area has focussed on emerging policy implications of Artifical Intelligence and automation, particularly as they relate to the changing nature of work and digitalisation of our daily lives. Aside from journal articles, books and edited work in this area include Transportation and Information: Trends in Technology and Policy (Springer 2013) and Proceedings of 4th ACM SIGSPATIAL International Workshop on Computational Transportation Science(ACM Press 2011).
Her work in the area of Urban Informatics span analytics of emerging sources of Big Data for knowledge discovery regarding cities and data-intensive policy analysis. She is interested in the technological, methodological, epistemological and political economy challenges related to working with Big Data. Recent work in this area include the edited volume Seeing Cities with Big Data: Research, Methods and Applications in Urban Informatics (Springer, 2017) and Proceedings of the ACM First International Workshop on Understanding the City with Urban Informatics (ACM Press, 2015).
Examples of ongoing projects in this area include the Integrated Multimedia City Data (iMCD) project which looks at multi-modal data collections (e.g., a social survey, travel and activity diaries, GPS, lifelogging image data and data from administrative sources and private businesses and a wide variety of social and infrastructure-based sensors) for sensing and knowledge discovery in cities. The Spatial Urban Data System (SUDS) programme aspires to serve small-area data on economic, social, built environment and physical factors and urban indicators in UK urban areas.
Prior to her current position at the University of Glasgow, Vonu was Professor of Urban Planning and Policy in the University of Illinois at Chicago and a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Statistical Sciences, both in the US. She has published over 170 journal papers, conference proceedings and technical reports.
Vonu has been Principal Investigator of grants valued at approximately $25 million and has been involved in research grants of $63 million in total (as PI, Co-I or Investigator) in the US and the UK. She was PI of a series of research grants to study mobility and accessibility outcomes experienced by low-wage workers, persons with disabilities and seniors. This work was funded by the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration and the Community Transportation Association of America together with the US Department of Labor. Her work on ICT and transport has been supported by the European Commission, National Science Foundation, Federal Highway Administration, Navteq LLC, Glasgow City Council and other public and private organisations. Her research on Big Data and Urban Informatics has been supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, National Science Foundation and the European Commission.
Vonu currently co-convenes the MSc in Urban Transport in University of Glasgow, where she teaches transport planning. She was previously the Co-PI of an NSF IGERT on Computational Transportation Science for PhD training in transport technology.
Vonu has consulted on or otherwise collaborated on transport or data projects in Malaysia, China, India, Australia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and several European countries. She has provided testimony to US Congress and has given input to the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology as well as to the US Government Accountability Office.
She is past (and founding) co-chair of the joint subcommittee on Computational Transportation and Society of the Transportation Research Board, National Academy of Sciences, (now called Urban Big Data joint subcommittee) which is focusing on the computational, design, analytics, social and legal aspects of Big Data for mobility and accessibility. She served as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA Journal) from 2010 to 2013. She is a co-chair of the Urban Data Interest group of the Research Data Alliance, a joint initiative of the European Commission, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Australian Government’s Department of Innovation.