Michigan, long acknowledged as the world’s automotive capital, isn't resting on its laurels. Today, at research centers throughout the state, companies large and small are leading the charge in developing next-generation technologies that are ushering in a new era of driving.
Many of these technologies fall under the umbrella of "connected vehicle" (CV) research, which aims to develop safe, wireless communication between a vehicle and its driver, other cars, the cloud and infrastructure elements such as traffic lights. CV technologies are being integrated with "automated vehicles (AVs), also known as autonomous or self- driving vehicles, to reinvent the future of personal transportation. Michigan leads the nation in automotive R&D, as well as navigation and smart mobility patents, and that lead seems likely to increase as more companies within the state make their marks on CV and AV development.
One of Michigan’s newest research assets is Mcity, which opened in July 2015 as a facility for testing connected and automated vehicle technology in realistic off-road settings. Mcity benefits from the support of the University of Michigan's Mobility Transformation Center, a leadership circle that includes government and industry partners such as Toyota and Honda, significant financial backing from state resources and the sheer volume of in-state auto- related companies.
“This is a hotbed-- the epicenter of advanced mobility," says Peter Sweatman, director of the Mobility Transformation Center. "The totality of the state’s work in this field is incredible.”
The CV/AV industry, in fact, extends beyond automakers and suppliers. This emerging ecosystem includes companies in big data, software, insurance, traffic control systems, sensors and much more.
Businesses developing these advanced solutions in Michigan benefit from the state’s vast automotive infrastructure; proximity to industry leaders, collaborators and customers; and access to unique talent from the state’s university system, says Pat Bassett, vice president of DENSO’s North American Research and Engineering Center in Southfield, Michigan. DENSO, a global automotive components manufacturer, is part of the Mcity partnership and has been developing CV technology--and testing it on the open road--since 2003.
These advancements promise many benefits, including improved productivity and energy efficiency, because drivers will be better able to avoid traffic and spend less time behind the wheel. But the biggest potential societal benefit is accident reduction. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that approximately 80 percent of serious crashes involving non- impaired drivers could be ameliorated by CV technology.
Bassett cautions that these developments won’t happen overnight. “It’s going to take some time before you’re sleeping in the backseat,” he says. “Most experts agree we won’t have AV market penetration until after 2030, but the path from here to there is all about continuously increasing safety. We hope that with every new CV or AV technology the industry introduces, safety improves.”