Local high school student building AI models during FreightWaves internship

Photo: FreightWaves Staff

Willie Frank Spight III wanted something a little more for his T-Term. The McCallie senior had a number of options for how to spend his midwinter, two-week study reserved for seniors project, but he wanted some real life, real-time experience.

His computer programming teacher, Wayne Fullam was at the FreightWaves Christmas party when he met chief data scientist Daniel Pickett. Fullam was concerned about teaching only for the AP test, and wished his students had an opportunity to do some real-world programming that might be valuable to a future employer.

“We continued the conversation into the spring,” said Pickett. “Wayne told me about a really bright student who wanted to spend his senior T-Term working with a local business that was actually writing software.”

The rest, as they say, is history. “Willie helped us write programs to collect highway camera images, from all over the country. Willie and our team also started implementing and training artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning networks to recognize and count trucks versus cars,” said Pickett. “Looking further out, real-time tracking of cars and trucks can be a great indicator of local and national economic activity. We could even have an early indication of crashes, traffic, fog and visibility issues. Willie helped us lay the groundwork for a data set that could be really powerful in a lot of ways.”

Pickett continued, “I wish I’d been doing stuff as advanced as this in high school. I’m very hopeful for the future of Chattanooga’s economy if high school seniors like Willie are doing this level of groundbreaking work.”

Spight took Intro to Computer Science last year, but it’s a huge jump from Javascript to web scraping, using Python Sequel, and Anaconda prompt in real world instances.

“We’ve been going to the DOT state traffic cameras and ‘scraping’ the images, putting them in a bucket and extracting the data from that so we can process the image and see which way the trucks are passing – counting the trucks – so we can gather data on the trucks in terms of accidents,” said Spight on his last day in the FreightWaves offices. “At least, that’s the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to be able to see all trucks, the type of truck, and whether or not trucks are in accidents so we can get FreightWaves’ clients the best data possible.”

“It was a pleasure to work with Willie over the last couple of weeks. We coded in a language new to both of us while beginning the exciting initiative of using AI to track volume in near-time and real-time. It’s special to work on something so cutting-edge at such a young age,” said data scientist Sierra Watkins.

Spight wants to major in computer science, specifically with a focus on radiology. He wants to do imaging and x-rays within the medical profession.

He currently has scholarship opportunities at Florida A&M, Hampton College and Rhodes College, but he’s also waiting to hear from Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt before he makes a final decision.  

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.