The University of Michigan has announced the establishment of the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center as a partnership with government and industry to dramatically improve the safety, sustainability and accessibility of the ways that people and goods move from place to place in our society.
“Rapid advances in such diverse areas as connected vehicle systems, driverless vehicles, shared vehicles and advanced propulsion systems have brought us to the cusp of a revolution that will transform mobility worldwide,” said Stephen Forrest, U-M vice president for research. “The goal of the MTC is to draw on U-M’s broad strengths in engineering, urban planning, energy technology, information technology, policy and social sciences to accelerate progress toward a working system that synthesizes these continuing advances.”
According to Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Transportation Research Institute and director of the new center, emerging technological advances could bring substantial benefits to society.
“Integrating the most promising approaches to mobility into a coordinated system could reduce motor vehicle fatalities and injuries as well as energy consumption and carbon emissions by as much as a factor of 10,” Sweatman said. “We also estimate that freight transportation costs could be cut by a factor of 3, and the need for parking could go down by a factor of 5.”
A key focus of the MTC will be a “model deployment” that will allow researchers to test emerging concepts in connected and automated vehicles and vehicle systems in both off-road and on-road settings.
The model deployment will build in part on a $25 million study for the U.S. Department of Transportation now underway at UMTRI. Researchers there have outfitted nearly 3,000 private cars, trucks and buses in Ann Arbor with wireless devices to communicate information that can be used to alert drivers of potential crash situations to each other as well as to similar devices located at intersections, curves, and freeway sites in the area.
Data gathered from this pilot project will be used to inform future policy decisions by the U.S. DOT.
“This project has made the Ann Arbor community a unique real-time on-road testbed for exploring the potential of connected vehicles and vehicle systems,” Sweatman said. “A number of industry participants are making use of this resource to explore the potential for their businesses as well.”
Beyond the safety pilot, MTC draws on a strong base of existing research and relationships with industry at U-M.
“U-M has a long history of automotive research and collaborations with industry,” said David Munson, dean of the U-M College of Engineering. “MTC will help us take our commitment to a new level and allow us to work together to pave the way for the future.”
Research conducted under the auspices of the MTC will not just focus on emerging technologies, Forrest said.
“Some of the biggest challenges we face are not technical,” he said. “There are many social, political, regulatory and economic issues that must be addressed in order to realize the promise of technological advances. With our acknowledged strengths in these areas, and our culture of interdisciplinary cooperation, U-M is uniquely suited to address the full complexity of the challenges ahead.”
Business Leaders for Michigan, the state’s business roundtable composed of the most senior executives from the state’s largest companies, has identified becoming a Global Center for Mobility as one of the six strategies with the most potential to grow the economy.
“Advanced mobility solutions are of vital importance to society as well as an opportunity for the American economy, and Michigan is the logical place to lead this work,” said Doug Rothwell, president of BLM. “With a greater concentration of automotive research, development, talent, supply chain and manufacturing infrastructure than anywhere else in the world, Michigan is the place that should be America’s mobility center of excellence.”
The Michigan state government has also identified the importance of continuing innovation in this arena to the vitality of the industry and the health of the economy.
“Michigan has long been the global center of the automotive industry,” said Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a public-private partnership aimed at spurring economic growth. “This new center will help us build on our legacy to forge a new era of leadership and innovation.”