U-M Unveils Automated Vehicle Test Site, Collaborative Battery Lab

Yesterday, the University of Michigan announced it will construct an automated vehicle test environment on 30 acres at its North Campus Research Complex. The $6.5 million test environment, which is expected to be completed by fall of 2014, will include approximately three miles of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals; sidewalks; benches; simulated buildings; street lights; obstacles such as construction barriers; and freeway merges.

Stephen Forrest, U-M’s vice president for research, says the new project leverages work the university has done as part of the year-long, $18 million University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) safety pilot, which was mostly funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. For the past year, about 3,000 wirelessly interconnected vehicles have been rolling around Ann Arbor gathering data on road conditions in real time and communicating with one another.

Forrest says the federal government, along with the Michigan Department of Transportation, will be “very strong partners” in the new vehicle test environment, which is the first of its kind in the nation. The university will also bring in industrial partners like Ford and GM. “There is tremendous interest in the outside world,” Forrest says. “We have traditional automotive partners, but also new partnerships in IT.”

In fact, Forrest views the test environment project as “fundamentally transformational” for the region, especially as connected vehicles and open innovation take center stage in the automotive industry. By getting a head start on testing the technology that will one day be standard in cars, Forrest says, Michigan is well positioned to lead the new wave of automated vehicle technology.

“This region has always been ripe for this kind of transformation,” he adds. “The automotive industry has been forced to open [to outside innovation]. The university has also pushed to be a partner. I’d like to think [U-M] will be a major benefactor of mobility technology.”

The University of Michigan further staked its claim to be an integral participant in the automotive sector’s move toward open innovation with its announcement last week that it will collaborate with Ford and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) on a new battery lab to be housed at the U-M Energy Institute.

The $8 million battery lab will enable industry and university researchers to collaborate on developing cheaper and longer-lasting energy storage devices. Initially, the lab will be supported by $5 million from the MEDC, $2.1 million from Ford, and roughly $900,000 from the U-M College of Engineering.

University officials hope the new battery lab will play a key role in facilitating Michigan’s battery supply chain. The goal of the new battery lab is to foster collaboration that is free from commercial competition, so it will be open to students as well as any company—automotive or not—that wishes to use it.

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