Last May, the University launched The Michigan Mobility Transformation Center, a government-industry partnership that focuses on improving transportation safety, sustainability and accessibility. Recently, the center announced an eight-year plan to make Ann Arbor the first U.S. city with a fleet of networked, driverless vehicles.
Peter Sweatman, director of the University’s Transportation Research Institute, said the University will partially fund the $100 million project, and additional aid will come from private and federal contributions.
In addition to the auto industry, companies in the communication and information industries are participating in the project. The U.S. Department of Transportation initiated the Safety Pilot Model Deployment under the Transportation Research Institute. This project will use innovative technology equipment to evaluate how technological connections between vehicles can help improve road safety.
Approximately 3,000 vehicles have been equipped with devices that allow them to communicate with other cars and send other vehicles information about their surroundings, such as road conditions. The goal of testing these connected vehicles is to get a sense of how and what kind of technology should be used to develop safer automated cars in the future. Though the test will only last for a few months, David Lampe, executive director for strategic communications in the Office of the Vice President for Research, is hopeful for the future of the program.
“We have this great system in place and so the next question for us is, rather than just shut it down, how can we make even further use?” Lampe said.
Lampe said the DOT has invested $25 million in the Safety Pilot Model Deployment, “the world’s largest on-road test of the concept.”
Lampe also said the relationship with the automotive industry and its funding of research is one of the project’s great strengths.
Jonathan Levine, a professor of urban and regional planning, is also part of the project as the only member from the urban and regional planning department.
Levine is concerned that automated vehicles could make commuting easier, leading to increased urban sprawl. He added that technological innovation tends to cause migration to urban areas.
A remedy to this potential problem is promoting the shared use of the cars.
“If I live closer in a denser area, I get better service because the density of vehicles is higher,” Levine said. “I can order a vehicle very quickly and, once it’s done with me, it goes off to somebody else very quickly. So I believe deploying it this way could strengthen close in living rather than becoming another sprawl.”