Feds Establish Midwest Center for Connected and Automated Transportation

ANN ARBOR — Moving society to next-generation transportation systems will take more than technology, and a new $2.47 million center led by the University of Michigan will explore the full picture of how communities can best transition to connected and automated vehicles.

Six Midwestern higher-learning institutions, including the University of Michigan and Washtenaw Community College, are involved in the new U.S. Department of Transportation-funded Center for Connected and Automated Transportation. Other institutions that are part of the center are Purdue University, the University of Illinois, the University of Akron and Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.

Headquartered at UM, the center is located near the heart of the U.S. auto industry. It is one of the 10 regional University Transportation Centers across the United States and serves Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

“This center provides yet another opportunity at the University of Michigan to conduct groundbreaking research on connected and automated vehicles, and to understand future transportation needs and challenges,” said Jim Sayer, director of the UM Transportation Research Institute, where the center will be housed. “We look forward to the many benefits it will bring to the community, the state and the region.”

In addition to driverless vehicle technology, the center will conduct research on advanced mobility policy; design of advanced roadways, intersections and bridges; connected and automated transportation systems control and operations; and public acceptance of self-driving vehicles.

It will also focus on educating the workforce the nation will need to make this shift possible. All participating universities will establish new courses to train engineers who can serve as leaders in this emerging field, as well as technicians and entrepreneurs. UM has recently established the Next Generation Transportation Systems program in its Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The program aims to cultivate future transportation leaders and innovators, college leaders say.

The center leverages programs already under way at UM. Through the “living laboratory” of the Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment, thousands of vehicles are already communicating with one another and wired infrastructure across the city.

The center will also build on the work of researchers at UMTRI and the UM Mobility Transformation Center, which operates Mcity. Mcity gives researchers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to test connected and automated vehicles and technologies in a safe, controlled environment before taking them out on public roads.

“Connected and automated vehicles will have a disruptive impact on our transportation system,” said UMTRI research professor Henry Liu, who is also a professor of civil and environmental engineering and who leads the new center. “While connected and automated vehicle technologies will continue to advance towards incorporation into public roadway systems, there exist a variety of open questions and issues on technology development, policy and planning, and system design and operations that require answers and resolution. CCAT aims to address some of these questions.”

The grant that established the new center is one of 35 five-year grants recently awarded through the USDOT’s University Transportation Center program.

“I’m confident this center will play a unique regional role in promoting connected and automated transportation research, education, workforce development and technology transfer activities, which are all critically important to the future of the region’s economy,” said Washtenaw Community College President Rose Bellanca. “We are proud to be part of the consortium of colleges who will support the work of the Connected and Automated Transportation Center.”

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