Students in the Spotlight - Phil Lu

September 23, 2020 by School of Cities Staff
"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Student Academy and Urban Leadership Fellowship program.


Phil Lu smiling


  • What are you currently working on?  What are your  research and engagement interests? 
    I am currently working on modeling scenarios of autonomous vehicle fleets in Toronto. To achieve this, I’m mainly using and modifying an open-source software library called AMoDeus, or “Agent-Based Mobility-on-Demand Simulator”. Autonomous Mobility-on-Demand is basically what you’d get if Uber replaced all their drivers with self-driving cars. I’m interested in researching how these systems will behave and analyzing their potential implications for economics, transportation equity, and travel behaviour in general. To engage the community, I’m going to write a blog post explaining how I prepared the simulation and performed the analysis. More ambitiously, I hope to make a useful contribution to AMoDeus’ public repositories. 
  • What  has motivated your interests  and journey?  How do you hope to make  a difference?
    Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved cities. It’s a major reason why I chose to move to Toronto for my undergrad. While learning about self-driving car technology during my studies in Robotics, I became curious about how cities would need to adapt and change to Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) hitting our roads in the future. It’s an important question that coincides with making AVs fully functional and safe. The fellowship was a chance for me to apply my skills and explore these questions for the first time, despite my childhood fascination with cities. By the end, I’m hoping to produce meaningful results that spark discussion within the SofC community on these issues and leave behind usable software that another curious student can build upon down the road.
  • As a student, researcher and/or activist, what have you learned from the pandemic and its global impact?  
    The pandemic has given me a new sense of appreciation for our resilience. Many people’s lives have been flipped upside down, but many others have stepped up to help, whether it’s by donating or starting non-profit initiatives to get small businesses back on their feet. Hearing how people have adapted to new struggles has reinforced my hope that many of us will come out of this pandemic more resilient and grateful for the things we once took for granted. On the other hand, seeing global issues such as food insecurity exacerbated by the pandemic has reminded me of the importance of strengthening institutions and capacity building in developing countries. It’s tragic how COVID-19 threatens to undo decades of progress on the SDGs.
  • Please share with us your experiences at the SofC. How do you think being a member of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has contributed to your scholarship and added to your experience as a student?  
    I’ve enjoyed my experience at the SofC. It’s a lovely community of students and faculty who care deeply about urban issues on both local and global scales. Throughout the meetings, I’ve consistently received offers to send resources or connect me to people that can provide insights on my research. I’ve also received valuable mentorship from former alumni of the program. Finally, because it’s an independently-led research project, the program has taught me the importance of proper scoping, being self-driven and managing my own project timelines well.


Student Bio:

Phil is a fourth-year student studying Engineering Science with a major in Robotics at the University of Toronto. He is the Managing Director of Global Engineering Week (GE Week), an initiative that engaged nearly 10,000 students across Canada in multidisciplinary problem-solving. As part of GE Week, he co-founded Hack the Globe, a hackathon that challenges students to innovate a tech-based social enterprise to address global issues. Phil is passionate about tackling problems at the intersection of AI/robotics and the social sciences and hopes to explore how urban issues are impacted by the rise of connected, intelligent systems.