Local companies make connected-car experiment possible
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Today’s launching of a connected-car research project has been hailed as a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), but plenty of local business also have contributed to the large-scale experiment which hopes to avoid crashes and decrease travel times by automating inter-car communication.
Private sector businesses have helped provide the wireless infrastructure used by the devices in the cars, nine car companies developed prototypes to be used in the study, and local delivery companies have volunteered their vehicles to be hooked up with the communication technology for the next year.
Con-Way Freight, a less-than-truckload delivery service that is headquartered in Ann Arbor and employs 21,000 people, is one of the companies that has volunteered to be in the study.
“For us, it’s a symbiotic relationship with the UMTRI,” said David Miller, a former executive at Con-Way who still serves the company as a consultant.
“We can give back to the community and build our relationship with U-M, and the technology that comes out of this will end up helping us in the long run.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Sebastian Wreford, business development manager at Metro Delivery. The company already is a strategic supplier to the university and has installed the car-communication devices in their delivery vehicles.
“We spend tens of thousands of dollars on gas every year,” he said.
“If this project can help us mitigate that expense, it’s more than worth it. Plus we do it because this is a worthy project, it’s about the future of transportation.”
Local engineers also were involved putting the technology to work in commercial car models. Vlad Vladimerou is a senior engineer at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor Township. He said the center has been working for almost a year on integrating the system into cars for the test.
“We wanted it to be as it would in any we make for production,” he said. “We didn’t want loose wires hanging anywhere or anything like that.”
Vladimerou said after the cars were finished by Toyota they were handed over to the US DOT who invested some of the money for their production.
“It was a collaborative process,” he said. Toyota, along with Ford, Honda, General Motors, Kia, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Mercedes-Benz, will be providing cars for the study.
Those cars will be turned over by UMTRI to people from a pool of applicants who will drive them as part of the year-long experiment.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood emphasized in his speech at the kickoff that the auto-industry would be a major partner moving forward once the data was gathered by the study.
“This is about an investment in the automobile industry that this administration has been committed to since day one,” he said.
The infrastructure for the boxes being placed in all of the cars also was a joint development by researchers at the University of Michigan and a number of companies spread across the globe. Of those companies, three of them — Denso International of America, DGE, Inc., and Auto Talks Ltd. — are either based in Michigan or have their U.S. headquarters here.