Michigan has long been at the forefront of transportation, revolutionizing the way people and goods move around the world. Today, the state continues to lead this sector, particularly as the automotive industry reaches a crucial moment in the advancement of mobility.
Advanced mobility technologies, such as connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), will significantly improve transportation safety, equity, and access. Beyond public health benefits, CAVs present opportunities to expand Michigan’s workforce capacities today to capitalize on the industry needs of tomorrow.
The URC and American Center for Mobility (ACM) are advancing transportation training demands for the next generation of talent. The ACM is a nonprofit testing, education, and product development facility for future mobility. The URC and 12 other Michigan universities and colleges have formed an academic consortium with the ACM to help the workforce meet emerging industry needs. Consortium members identify courses and training program needs, as well as recruitment opportunities, internships, co-op and work-study programs.
“We are proud to partner with Michigan’s world-class academic institutions to ensure we have the top talent needed to lead this automotive and technological innovation,” said John Maddox, president and CEO of the ACM. “This first-of-its-kind collaboration will solidify Michigan’s place as a global hub for CAV technologies” (Shavers 2017).
Although the consortium’s curricula are in early development, programming will cover a diverse range of topics, such as legal training, software development, and vehicle repair. Classes will vary from continuing education to postgraduate courses and will be held at the ACM and consortium schools.
“CAVs will create new regulatory questions, so we will need lawyers trained and aware of future transportation issues,” Maddox says. “We will also need people who can service autonomous vehicles because it’s not your normal repair work. These vehicles will have software updates on a regular basis” (Schmid Stevenson 2017).
Outside of the consortium’s work, the URC is addressing questions related to automotive engineering, law, policy, cybersecurity, business, social sciences, and urban planning—all of which will be impacted by advanced mobility.
U-M formed Mcity, a group of industry, academic, and corporate partners that focuses on research and education for all areas impacted by CAVs. It is also home to a one-of-a-kind urban CAV-testing facility used for on-road vehicle deployment. Mcity, along with the ACM, will span the range of mobility technology developments—from basic and applied research to product validation and certification.
“By providing a platform for faculty, students, industry partners, and startups to test CAVs, we will break down technology barriers and dramatically speed up innovation,” said Carrie Morton, deputy director of Mcity. “We’re democratizing access to automated vehicle technology for research and education” (Carney 2016).
WSU is focusing their efforts on controlling CAVs on highways, a critical component of developing smart transportation systems. A research team led by Le Yi Wang, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is examining some of the challenges associated with vehicles traveling in controlled, close formations—also known as longitudinal platoons. According to Wang, the primary challenges of platoon control include variations in road conditions, reliability under sensor and communication errors and interruptions, safety and smooth operation when vehicles merge into and depart from a platoon, and highway resource usage and fuel economy.
“Platoon formation has been identified as one promising strategy for enhanced safety, improved highway utility, increased fuel economy, and reduced emission toward autonomous or semiautonomous vehicle control,” said Wang. “The goal of longitudinal platoon control is to ensure that all the vehicles move in the same lane at the same speed with desired intervehicle distances” (WSU n.d.c.).
At MSU, researchers are involved in work that will someday make self-driving vehicles commonplace. Through the CANVAS project, or Connected and Autonomous Networked Vehicles for Active Safety, MSU scientists are focusing on the recognition and tracking of objects, such as pedestrians or other vehicles; fusion of data captured by radars and cameras; localization, mapping, and advanced artificial intelligence algorithms that allow autonomous vehicles to maneuver in their environments; and computer software to control vehicles.
“Much of our work focuses on technology that integrates the vehicle with its environment,” said Hayder Radha, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of CANVAS. “In particular, MSU is a recognized leader in computer vision, radars and antenna design, high-assurance computing, and related technologies—all areas that are at the core of self-driving vehicles” (MSU n.d.).
While self-driving vehicles once seemed like a distant utopia, their workplace and technological impacts could be seen in the near future. The comprehensive research, collaboration, and behind-the-scenes brainpower from the URC and ACM will ensure that Michigan, and the world, is prepared for their deployment.