TechLab to form partnerships between Mcity, startups

Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 5:53pm

The University of Michigan launched the pilot of TechLab at Mcity, a program for transportation startups to partner with researchers at the automated vehicle testing site, Thursday.

TechLab is meant to bring driverless innovation closer to consumer markets by providing companies working with transportation technology with access to Mcity’s nationally recognized research facilities, according to a press release.

"By creating a structure that allows startup companies from around the globe to access top-flight talent and resources that would otherwise be unavailable to them, we believe we have hit upon a model that will create a winning opportunity for all involved," Thomas Frank, executive director of the College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship, said in a press release.

Frank was not immediately available for comment Thursday evening.

Mcity launched in July 2015 as the world’s first controlled vehicle test site for researching automated vehicle technology and developing driverless cars ready for the mass market. Housed on North Campus, it was created by the University’s Mobility Transformation Center and the State of Michigan Department of Transportation.

Zendrive, created by former employees at Google and Facebook, is the first startup participating in TechLab. Zendrive uses mobile sensor technology to measure driver safety in actions like acceleration, breaking, swerving and phone use.

"Collaborating with U-M allows us to explore what is possible in the future of transportation, as well as apply learnings to today's road safety opportunities, including driving apps, on-demand services and commercial fleets," Zendrive CEO Jonathan Matus said in the release.

Representatives from Zendrive were also unavailable for comment Thursday evening.

To help create Mcity, the University partnered with many of the world’s leading auto companies such as Honda, Ford and General Motors. In addition to Mcity, the state of Michigan is home to 375 automotive research centers and hosts the highest concentration of industrial and mechanical engineers in the country.

The 32-acre testing site simulates urban and suburban environments using traffic signs, sidewalks, construction obstacles and even potholes. Ford became the first auto industry to use Mcity to test its driverless car technology by testing how its LiDAR sensors — sensors that use laser beams to gauge the surrounding environment — would operate in the winter.