Michigan university hired to help China develop autonomous vehicles

A Chinese firm will give $27m to the University of Michigan (UM) to help it develop autonomous vehicles in a bid to make car travel in China safer, cleaner and cheaper.

The world needs a better way for people and goods to get around– Mark Schlissel, University of Michigan

On 15 October UM President Mark Schlissel signed the memorandum of understanding with Frontt Capital Management Ltd, a Shenzhen-based investment firm keen on developing China’s intelligent vehicle industry.

The funding will be used to set up a Joint Research Centre for Intelligent Vehicles at UM, and contribute to building a new robotics laboratory there.

It will also pay for UM researchers to go to China to help Frontt Capital build an autonomous vehicle test facility in Shenzhen to simulate China’s unique road environment.

After signing the agreement UM’s Mark Schlissel said that the world needed "a better way for people and goods to get around".

"Fatal crashes are all too common, and transportation is one of the largest sources of climate changing greenhouse gases," he said. "The world needs a better way for people and goods to get around, and we believe autonomous, connected vehicles are an important component of the solution."

He said the cash from Frontt would help "advance mobility in a way that we believe will ripple across the globe".

The new robotics lab will be built near "Mcity", a suburban streetscape UM built for testing autonomous vehicles last year.

Artist’s render of UM’s planned new 140,000-square-foot Robotics Laboratory, slated to open in winter 2020 (University of Michigan)

In a press notice UM said the new Shenzhen facility would test new technologies and show how connected and automated vehicles could improve safety, efficiency, and sustainability in China, where more than 200,000 people die in road accidents every year.

"The potential to save lives is tremendous," said UM’s Vice President for Research, S. Jack Hu. "And since autonomous vehicles are safer, they could eventually be made of lighter-weight materials, so they’d use less fuel."

The Shenzhen research facility will simulate China’s unique road environment and driving behaviour. "In China, there are more bicyclists and pedestrians, and shorter on-ramps, for example," Hu said.

UM’s planned 140,000-square-foot Robotics Laboratory is slated to open in winter 2020.

In it, robotic technologies for air, sea and roads, for factories, hospitals and homes will have tailored lab space. Ford Motor Co. will provide funding to add a fourth floor that it will lease for dedicated space where Ford researchers will eventually be based, UM announced last month.

Top image: One of Google’s self-driving cars snapped in March 2016 in Mountain View, California (Grendelkhan/Wikimedia Commons)

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  1. Let us beware of unproven assumptions! We know that traffic control has yet to be developed to its fullest potential and that the world tendency is to find various means of separating heavy, medium and light vehicles on freeways and providing walkways for pedestrians , bicycle ways for those who cycle and to develop more efficient means of public transport for commuters to reduce vehicular traffic congestion on our roads! With regard to the assumption that the death rate will be greatly reduced by the use of autonomous passenger vehicles – what if the very opposite proves to be the case? Recently a man died simply by switching to autonomous drive out of his usual human manual driving control of his “advanced” sedan he was driving at the time! On analysis it was proven that had he retained manual control of his vehicle he would indeed have avoided his own death via a fatal collision with a truck!

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