2012 Deals of the Year: University of Michigan's connected vehicles project wins research award
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has emerged as a national leader in the development and testing of an innovative automotive technology that would allow cars to “talk” to one another on the road.
The institute is in the midst of a yearlong, $18-million pilot program funded in large part by the U.S. Department of Transportation that it believes could help increase auto safety and reduce traffic congestion.
"This is an experience that cannot be duplicated in any lab," U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said at the project’s launch.
"We're taking a major step forward in understanding cutting-edge technology tools that offer a real promise of making our roads safer. Vehicles talking to vehicles: Who would have ever thunk it?"
The pilot program involves putting sensors into nearly 3,000 cars driven by Ann Arbor residents and delivery companies that regularly pass through the 48015 ZIP code in northeast Ann Arbor. Similar sensors will be installed at busy intersections, on sharp curves, and in five spots along local freeways.
The sensors will record the location and speed of the vehicles and transmit that information to a central hub, as well as to some other cars that are equipped to receive the signals, and warn drivers of impending problems.
On Friday night, UMTRI was awarded AnnArbor.com’s Deal of the Year in the Research category for the size and scope of the project as well as for the collaborative effort with the U.S. Department of Transportation that made the study possible.
The Hyunda-Kia research and development center in Superior Township was also nominated in the category for its $15-million expansion, which includes a new environment chamber. The University of Michigan’s I-Corps program, which helps scientists take research discoveries and bring them to market, was also a nominee. That program is funded by the National Science Foundation,
U-M beat out other schools, including Virginia Tech University and Carnegie Mellon University, to run the pilot program. The regional access to top automotive technologies as well as the experimental design of the program played roles in the university’s ability to attract the funding for the project, according to earlier statements by U.S. Department of Transportation officials.
In addition to retrofitting cars driven by local residents with the sensors, UMTRI worked with eight automakers to develop prototypes of cars that would have the sensors and warning technologies built into the cars' systems.
Vlad Vladimerou, a senior engineer at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor Township, said at the kickoff event that his center had been working for over a year to integrate the system into a car. Ford, General Motors, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Mercedes-Benz also developed cars for the study.
As more advanced technologies are developed and tested in southeast Michigan, speculation has increased that the corridor between Detroit and Lansing, as well as Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, could become a global center for high-tech research led by the universities and the automotive industry. Projects like the connected vehicles program will go along way toward cementing that reputation.