University partners with Chinese institutions, companies for research projects

Monday, November 21, 2016 - 5:38pm

Last week, the University of Michigan announced a partnership with Chinese institutions to solve and improve global problems including the need for clean water technology and new transportation methods for future generations.

Though some of the agreements are still preliminary, the partnership has received an approximate $54 million to jumpstart their research projects.

S. Jack Hu, vice president for research at the University, and Gov. Rick Snyder have been working in China for the past month, collaborating with local companies to create a plan of action.

“Over the past month, we signed two research agreements and one Memorandum of understanding,” Hu wrote in an email interview. “These are three different partnerships.”

According to Hu, a primary component of the five-year partnership is a memorandum of understanding with the Beijing Institute for Collaborative Innovation aims to establish a Global Collaboratory in Water Technology. Lutgarde Raskin, a University professor for civil and environmental engineering, will lead the collaboration for clean water technology. which he wrote is integral in providing resources to people across the globe.

“The Collaboratory’s goal is to identify technology gaps in water treatment and monitor and develop solutions to provide clean and safe water to the world’s urban environments,” he wrote.

Funding for the University's partnership of $25 million will be provided by the Beijing Institute, an organization of 14 Chinese universities. The project anticipates three locations: Beijing, Shenzhen and Ann Arbor, with the funding equally distributed between sites. The full research agreement for the three institutions is scheduled to be signed in 2017.

The second project, a research agreement with Frontt Capital Management, a Shenzhen-based investment firm, aims to make advancements in autonomous and connected vehicles as well as in robotic technologies.

The $27 million collaboration with the firm will establish a joint research center for intelligent vehicles at the University and a robotics laboratory on North Campus. There will also be support for University researchers to design a testing facility in Shenzhen, which will resemble the unique transportation system in urban-suburban China.

Huei Peng, director of the University’s Mobility Transformation Center and professor of mechanical engineering, will be leading the third project: the University of Michigan-Sokon Research Center, a $2.5 million research agreement between the University and the Chongqing Sokon Industry Group.

This agreement aims to spur pilot research on connected and automated vehicles in collaboration with faculty and students from the University and the Chongqing Sokon Industry Group.

The Chongqing Sokon Industry Group, a public company based in southwest China, works with the construction and distribution of auto parts and will be building an independent tech center in Michigan, along with the University reserach center.

“The automotive industry has existed for more than a century, so it is a very important element of our daily lives,” Peng said. “It’s important that we develop technologies together with companies that have the final users in mind. In other words, safety, energy consumption and mobility needs are always very important. We don’t want to develop future vehicles without considering what people need.”

Peng said the establishment of Sokon’s branch office tech center in Michigan will also provide University students with new research opportunities and future jobs in the industry.

“We, as University professors, try to find opportunities to work with both federal funding agencies and company sponsors to get resources that are necessary to educate students and conduct research,” he said.

The partnership will push for new technologies, Peng said, including electric and automotive vehicles. He added that the University has been closely working with automotive engineering since the beginning of the auto industry.

Regarding the incorporation of these new technologies in learning opportunities for University students, Peng said he thinks resources should be available to students, and that they should be a part of the research process.

“It is very important that students not only understand the theory behind many of the phenomena, but it’s also important to have hands-on experience,” he said.

Hu wrote that all of these partnerships complement existing research at the University and let it be engaged worldwide.

“Safe and sustainable transportation, safe and clean water are societal challenges across the globe,” he said. “Having such partnerships allows our researchers to conduct research that will have global impact.”