Chinese Firm Invests $27M in U-M’s Autonomous Tech Research

The Chinese investment firm Frontt Capital Management has invested $27 million to advance autonomous vehicle and robotics research at the University of Michigan, the school said in a press release.

Mark Schlissel and S. Jack Hu, the university’s president and vice president for research, respectively, signed a memorandum of understanding with Shenzhen-based Frontt. The firm concentrates on developing China’s intelligent vehicle industry, U-M said.

Under the terms the agreement, U-M will establish a Joint Research Center for Intelligent Vehicles to aid professors working on projects related to autonomous vehicle technologies.

Some of Frontt’s investment will go toward construction of the university’s new robotics lab and a garage located near Mcity, “the simulated urban environment for testing connected and automated vehicles,” U-M said in the release. The new funding will also help cover fees for engineering services and consulting by U-M researchers advising Frontt on the design of an autonomous vehicle test facility in Shenzhen.

“Frontt’s investment in U-M people and technology will help advance mobility in a way that we believe will ripple across the globe,” Schlissel said in a statement. “Fatal crashes are all too common, and transportation is one of the largest sources of climate changing greenhouse gases. The world needs a better way for people and goods to get around, and we believe autonomous, connected vehicles are an important component of the solution.”

U-M is already engaged with companies across a range of countries and industrial sectors “to address the technical, social, economic, legal, political, and business challenges” of  getting autonomous vehicles to market, the university said, adding that Frontt’s investment is expected to support ongoing work in this area.

The future autonomous vehicle test facility in China will simulate the country’s transportation environment and incorporate road conditions, traffic density, traffic patterns, and culture. After the facility is built, the university said its industry partners will have a place outside the U.S. to test autonomous vehicle technologies.

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