The University’s new Mobility Transformation Center aims to cure some of automobile transportation’s more dangerous pitfalls — most of which are, in fact, caused by people.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 93 percent of car accidents in the United States are caused by or involve human error, such as improper lookout, excessive speed and inattention. Minimizing the human error could lead to fewer accidents.

“We still have 33,000 fatalities every year on the road in this country,” MTC Director Peter Sweatman, said. “A high proportion of those are caused by driving error. This is where we saw the opportunity to make driving much safer.”

MTC is leading a research and development initiative to advance transportation technology, along with 13 private companies and several government organizations, including the U.S. and Michigan Departments of Transportation.

The goal of the initiative is to develop a working system of connected and automated vehicles, designed to minimize human errors that lead to the vast majority of car accidents. A working system is to be implemented in Ann Arbor by 2021.

The founding industry members make up the MTC’s Leadership Circle, and each will commit $1 million over three years to support research. These members include Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Verizon Communications, Inc., among others leaders. For some of the founding members, the initiative is also an opportunity to benefit their businesses.

“Our desire is to study the technology and see how that affects our business,” said Angie Rinock, a spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance, a founding member of the Leadership Circle. “The technology is advancing, and how will the cost of that affect people’s insurance rate?”

Connected vehicles, also known as Vehicle-to-Vehicle, wirelessly communicate with other vehicles the information about their speed and location. This allows the vehicles to sense the presense of other vehicles and decide whether they represent a potential threat.

“Let’s say you are driving behind a big truck, and a car in front of the big truck stops abruptly. Even if you can’t see that the car has stopped because of the truck, if both cars are V2V equipped, your car will be notified,” said Dan Flores, a spokesman for General Motors. GM is part of the Leadership Circle.

In addition to advancing the V2V technology, MTC is also implementing the concept of automated vehicles in the initiative. Automated vehicles will allow the vehicles to be autonomous, requiring little input from their drivers. Both connected and automated vehicles will be able communicate with other vehicles and will be able to anticipate other vehicles’ movements to prevent crashes, or at least minimize damages.

The initiative will also develop Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communication, which will allow the vehicles to wirelessly communicate with the roadway to further crash prevention.

Trish Plonski, senior vice president of Business Development, Strategy and M&A for Xerox Transportation Sector, another research partner, said developing V2I communication would also enhance the experience for drivers with added wireless services such as highway toll payments and public transit fares.

“It would provide the drivers a more seamless experience,” Plonski said.

MTC is currently developing a test area called Mobility Transformation Facility. When completed in spring 2015, the facility will occupy 32 acres on the North Campus Research Complex and contain simulations of various everyday occurrences that vehicles encounter in suburban and urban areas, such as pedestrians, traffic signs and construction sites.

“(MTF) is a simulated city and a controlled environment where we can actually test vehicles,” Sweatman said. “It is a dense, urban environment where we can do repeatable testing. MTF will enable U of M to be a leader in developing standards for these vehicles as we go forward.”

Finally, Sweatman said the University is the ideal place for transportation technology research due to the expertise and diverse interests on campus.

“I think U of M is the perfect place (for the initiative) because we have the strength in transportation and engineering, as well as a wide constituency in urban planning, Medical School, the School of Public Health, Law School and the School of Information,” Sweatman said. “There are many questions to be answered in deploying these vehicles, and we can bring the broad interests to the table.”

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