Last week was busy for the University’s Transportation Research Institute, which announced the creation of the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center in the midst of its three-day long symposium on connected vehicles and infrastructure.

The conference discussed a wide range of topics, including the environment, mass transit, energy and other issues involved in making cars and the streets they drive on safer, more efficient and more practical.

Francine Romine, UMTRI’s director of marketing and communications, said the event, held at the Rackham Graduate School, was incredibly productive.

“The conference was an amazing success. We had over 200 people from around the world that came together to talk specifically about connected vehicle and infrastructure technology,” Romine said.

Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president for research, said the MTC will engage with students from all kinds of educational backgrounds.

“It stretches all the way from information technology, energy technology to policy and so on,” Forrest said. “It’s very, very interdisciplinary and we expect to have lots of students working on the research projects that will be coming out of the center.”

Forrest said a hypothetical project of the MTC could be developing a system to actively reroute drivers to less trafficked routes. Such a program would require information from cars and streets to be shared in real-time, but could potentially reduce time spent in traffic, make driving more efficient and driving conditions safer.

Forrest added that the historical dominance that Michigan, particularly in the southeast, has had in the automobile business. The ideas and potential changes that accompany connected vehicles and infrastructure can substantially change a system that has existed for roughly the past century, and this is an opportunity to take charge in pursuing the future of transportation.

About 140 people, including staff and researchers, work at the UMTRI with anywhere from 15 to 30 students working there as well, depending on the semester. Romine said the institute also works with students from the College of Engineering, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and other schools and colleges on specific projects.

Despite the more than 100 students and staff working within UMTRI, and the importance of the work it produces, Romine noted its low profile, which she attributed to its nondescript locale, tucked away on North Campus.

“We sit over on Baxter Road in this 1960s-era poured concrete building and I don’t think most people know that some of the most significant milestones in transportation safety have come out of here,” she said, noting that the UMTRI’s research excellence spans back to its 1960s seatbelt research.

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