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The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute will create more than 20 “smart intersections” across Ann Arbor as part of an initiative to demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of a network of automated vehicles. The project, announced Thursday, retrofits intersections with cameras, radar and infrared sensors that send movement information in real time to the warning systems of nearby connected vehicles, which are automobiles equipped with internet accessible data.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration awarded the three-year project $9.95 million, with corporate partners contributing an additional $10 million.

Of the grant, $3.8 million will be dispersed to the University and $6.2 million to subcontractors. 

In a press release, UMTRI Director James Sayer stressed that the initiative would help create a blueprint for a connected vehicle future and provide immediate safety benefits from the time of implementation, which is around 2024.

“One of the most promising aspects of this project is that we will be able to pave the way for a national connected and automated vehicle deployment,” Sayer said. “We will definitively demonstrate not only the technology but a clear path to funding the infrastructure.”

The University’s Office of Public Affairs did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

Ann Arbor is no stranger to using innovation to combat congestion. The city, in partnership with the automation company Siemens, has been using intelligent traffic signals for years. It also recently added advanced signals to 29 more intersections, which help traffic move more quickly by tracking traffic flow in real time.

Pedestrian safety has also been a concern in Ann Arbor, as foot traffic among students and locals makes them vulnerable to reckless drivers.

Since 2012, as many as 3,000 vehicles have been communicating with Ann Arbor intersections and each other as part of the University’s Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment and Safety Pilot Model Deployment programs. These projects provided evidence that inter-car connectivity could reduce unimpaired collisions by up to 90%, according to Thursday’s press release.

UMTRI Research Professor Henry Liu told The Michigan News the new system will fill gaps for current traffic technology’s existing hazard detection among connected cars. 

“One way to overcome the physical limitations of the onboard technology is to have these sensors placed locally that can provide information in situations where, say, line of sight is being blocked by a bus, or some other barrier,” Liu said. “Roadside sensors can detect a possible danger that is blocked, and broadcast that danger’s information to the vehicle.”

The project follows a larger state-wide trend of building infrastructure meant to support automated vehicles. In August, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the creation of a 40-mile road between Ann Arbor and downtown Detroit for self-driving cars to “to improve transportation for communities in Southeast Michigan,” according to an Aug. 13 press release.

Daily Staff Reporter Dominick Sokotoff can be reached at

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