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Michigan and Intelligent Mobility

The state positioned as a leader in developing and testing connected vehicle technology 

Pages 24-26

By Melissa Anders

Southeast Michigan shone under the spotlight as thousands of automotive and technology leaders from more than 65 countries converged on Detroit this past fall for the 21st World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).

Long recognized as the traditional manufacturing hub of the American automobile industry, Michigan is poised to also be the epicenter of intelligent mobility and connected vehicle technology.

The state’s business, government and academic officials want the world to know that critical conversations, research and development, and testing in those fields are taking place in Michigan.

“(ITS) was an opportunity for us to tell the world that this work is being done here and that if you want to be part of the conversation and the work, it’s the place to be,” said Glenn Stevens, vice president of MICHauto and strategic development at the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Automotive companies demonstrated their connected and automated vehicles on Belle Isle, the streets of Detroit and at NextEnergy’s Connected Transportation Living Lab during the conference.

More than 200 people took rides across the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle in a demo vehicle with active cruise control and autopilot features developed by IAV Automotive Engineering Inc. in Northville. The car can automatically switch lanes and pass another vehicle with the touch of a turn signal, said Chris Hennessy, IAV’s vice president of engineering.

Hennessy said the World Congress was a “tremendous success” that helped to increase the company’s market visibility, while also highlighting the rapidly growing intelligent mobility activity in Southeast Michigan.

Michigan’s concentration of automakers and suppliers provides the foundation upon which to build the nextgeneration vehicle technology, while state universities’ research efforts fuel the development, and state and local governments offer regulatory and infrastructure support.

The key, officials said, is getting all the parties to collaborate, and also to promote and advertise the state’s assets.

“Michigan has always been modest,” said Rob Luce, director of MICHauto, aChamber initiative focused on promoting, growing and retaining the state’s automotive industry.

While the state’s dominance in traditional automotive manufacturing may have led some to take its leadership position for granted, Michigan faces a new kind of competition from California, Germany, China and elsewhere when it comes to the race for connected and autonomous vehicle technology.

“If Michigan doesn’t grab that platform and do everything it can to nurture it, then the whole industry is at risk,” said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, a business roundtable that’s identified the mobility industry as one of the greatest potential drivers of Michigan’s future economy.

Intelligent mobility includes connected cars that communicate with other vehicles and with surrounding infrastructure like traffic signals in order to promote safer, more efficient travel. There’s also progress being made on autonomous vehicle technology that uses sensors and software to either partially or fully automate cars without the need for human drivers. Much of the research in these areas is taking place at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and its Mobility Transformation Center (MTC).

UMTRI, founded 50 years ago, has been collecting data from nearly 3,000 connected cars, buses and motorcycles in Ann Arbor for more than two years as part of a $31-million federally funded safety study. The institute tests the technology in real-world conditions by outfitting volunteers’ own vehicles. The MTC, launched in 2013, recently secured state funding to increase the safety study to 9,000 vehicles.

In addition to government support, the MTC is funded by industry partners, including automakers and suppliers, as well as insurance and telecommunications companies. The center is wrapping up civil construction of a 32-acre, off-roadway test facility located near campus where companies can evaluate intelligent mobility systems. A grand opening is scheduled for July 2015, said Peter Sweatman, director of UMTRI and MTC.

The university also is working with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. to outfit portions of I-696, I-94 and other major roadways with infrastructure that can communicate with vehicles. Researchers hope to collect data from some 20,000 automaker fleet vehicles as they interact with the system.

Another project seeks to set up a system of connected and even driverless vehicles in Ann Arbor to help transport both people and freight, Sweatman said.

“We really want to make Michigan, or Southeast Michigan in particular, the epicenter for this kind of development in the whole country,” he said.

Melissa Anders is a metro Detroit freelance writer.