DETROIT – Michigan is poised to enhance its position as the automotive capital of the world with a focus on connected and automated vehicle technology, and a new partnership between the state and the University of Michigan will help usher in the new era, said Gov. Rick Snyder Wednesday at a press conference at the North American International Auto Show.
“Michigan’s automotive future is as important as its historic past, and it is just as bright,” Snyder said. “By working together with great partners in education and the auto industry, we are strengthening our lead as the world headquarters for auto manufacturing and research and development.”
The governor was joined by state Sen. Mike Kowall, who sponsored legislation recently signed by Snyder to allow the testing of automated vehicles in the state.
“Just as Henry Ford revolutionized the auto industry with his assembly line, automated vehicles will mark a sea change for cars of the future,” said Kowall. “According to Forbes Magazine, the economic impact alone of autonomous vehicles will be in the trillions of dollars. Vehicles will be communicating with each other. Gas mileage will increase remarkably as vehicles travel at the optimal speed. Most important of all, these vehicles will make roads safer than ever, dramatically decreasing the number of auto crashes and the injuries and deaths that result from them.”
Snyder said companies and universities in Michigan are already leading the way in many intelligent, connected vehicle programs aimed at driverless cars. The new partnership announced between the state and the University of Michigan’s new Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) will help continue this growth.
The MTC is an ambitious partnership of government, industry, and universities that will lay the technical, social, cultural and regulatory groundwork to accelerate the development of a commercially viable “ecosystem” of connected and automated vehicles. A key goal of this initiative is to demonstrate an on-road mobility system of connected and automated vehicles and infrastructure in southeast Michigan, rapidly and effectively.
“There have been a host of advances in driverless vehicles, multi-modal transportation, shared vehicles, traffic performance management, as well as new propulsion systems,” said Peter Sweatman, director of the MTC. “At the MTC, we will bring together the expertise and resources to envision and to demonstrate how these advances can be shaped into a working system.”
Connected vehicles are networked vehicles that share real-time information such as position, speed, and direction by communicating either directly with each other or via a central wireless infrastructure. It only allows drivers to be warned about dangers nearby or on the road ahead, but also enables efficient traffic management and, ultimately, automated and driverless vehicles.
As part of the MTC initiative, U of M is now working with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) on the design of a unique, simulated urban environment for testing connected and automated vehicles before they are tried out in real traffic.
Located on 32 acres on the university’s North Campus Research Complex, the test environment will include roads, intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, benches, simulated buildings, street lights, and obstacles such as construction barriers. Current plans call for the facility be completed by the fall of 2014.
“At MDOT, our top priorities are the safety of the traveling public and helping people and goods arrive at their destinations as efficiently as possible,” said MDOT Director Kirk Steudle. “The creation of the MTC is another critical step in the development of Intelligent Transportation Systems and systems that allow for real-time communications between vehicles and the infrastructure they use.”
The MTC’s far-reaching plan evolved in part from a study for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) now underway at U-M’s Transportation Research Institute. Researchers there have outfitted nearly 3,000 private cars, trucks, and buses in northeast Ann Arbor with wireless devices to communicate information that can be used to alert drivers of potential crash situations to each other as well as to similar devices located at intersections, curves, and freeway sites in the area.
Data gathered from this pilot project will be used to inform future policy decisions by the USDOT. Several manufacturers have also used the deployment to test their own approaches to hazard warning systems that could be used in such a system.
Another project will be to collaborate with MDOT to connect the freeway systems in southeast Michigan, and recruit at least 20,000 corporate and government-owned fleets, including heavy trucks, to test selected vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure functions.
“This deployment, along with the new off-road test facility, will make our state the best-equipped and safest place to test automated vehicles on open roads,” said Steudle.
“This initiative is central to Michigan’s long-term plan for global leadership in the new automotive ecosystem,” said Nigel Francis, senior vice president of the Automotive Office at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and senior automotive adviser for the state of Michigan. “It will catalyze the resources in our region and the relationships we have worldwide not only to bring about sweeping change in industry and society, but also to give a dramatic boost to Michigan’s economy.”
For Snyder, the future of the industry and these autonomous and connected vehicle technologies comes back to education, with particular focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The governor highlighted the Square One Education Network, which provides grant funding to schools, enabling them to provide innovative, meaningful STEM programs.
Square One’s Autonomous Innovative Vehicle Design project, on display at the auto show, challenges students to re-engineer a “Barbie Jeep” into an autonomous vehicle. Students utilize various technologies to create an autonomous vehicle that can traverse a challenge course and avoid obstacles without driver assistance. The governor said groups like Square One reinforce his call for focusing on STEM to help students gain valuable skills. Snyder said internships, mentorships, job shadowing, and apprenticeship programs like Michigan Advanced Technician Training are all valuable ways to reach out to students.
“The Michigan-based Square One Education Network builds and funds powerful, relevant experiences for K-12 teachers and students that creatively integrate STEM into classrooms and schools,” said Karl Klimek, executive director. “We are thrilled to be a part of today’s program and even more excited about working with amazing teachers, students and partners to grow Michigan’s talent and leadership in all areas related to vehicular engineering and the mobility revolution.”
The auto industry supports 513,000 jobs in Michigan and generated $2.8 billion in direct taxes and fees to Michigan’s treasury in 2010, according to the Center for Automotive Research. Nearly 18 percent of the nation’s auto jobs are located in Michigan.
The announcement was part of a full day spent at Detroit’s auto show for Snyder, where he met with executives and representatives from auto manufacturers and suppliers, and toured the show floor.
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