Three driverless vehicle startups move into University of Michigan’s technology incubator

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Three high-potential companies from the USA’s West Coast will join TechLab at Mcity this autumn, moving resources to develop their driverless vehicle technologies in the Ann Arbor region of Michigan.

The University of Michigan (U-M) Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE), in partnership with the U-M Mobility Transformation Center (MTC), has announced that the move is part of an expansion of an innovative program designed to drive the future of mobility. MTC operates Mcity, the world’s first controlled environment specifically designed to test the potential of connected and automated vehicle technologies.

Part of Mcity, TechLab is an experiential learning incubator that matches early-stage technology with students interested in applying classroom learning to practical technology development. The students help bring connected and driverless innovations closer to market.

In February 2016, CFE launched the pilot of TechLab with Zendrive (top), a Bay Area startup founded by Google and Facebook veterans. The positive outcomes from this initial partnership demonstrated a valuable collaboration among university research, advanced transportation startups, and student innovators. At the completion of the independent study period, participating students presented key ideas they learned to faculty, venture capitalists, and stakeholders working on the autonomous mobility technologies. Several students continued work over the summer as Zendrive interns. The company returns to TechLab this autumn to accelerate the development of technology that uses a driver’s smartphone to measure actions such as acceleration, braking, swerving, and phone use. Driver safety is the ultimate goal for this emerging technology, and earlier this year, Zendrive secured US$13.5m in funding to improve the system and expand its team.

The other new companies in the 2016 TechLab cohort are:

• PolySync (above and below), which is an operating system, built for the high-bandwidth, high-compute requirements of fully autonomous driving. The system turns algorithms, sensors and actuators into plug and play applications, allowing developers to focus less on coding and more on user experience.

• Civil Maps (below), which is a 3D mapping technology to help fully autonomous vehicles to drive anywhere smoothly and safely. Through artificial intelligence and vehicle-based local processing, Civil Maps converts sensor data into meaningful map information, built specifically to direct driverless vehicles. In July, the company raised US$6.6m in a seed funding round led by Motus Ventures.

“The U-M Mobility Transformation Center is pleased to welcome the fall class of TechLab companies,” said Carrie Morton, deputy director of MTC. “We’re excited to bring these disruptors and their innovative technologies into the ecosystem MTC is building with its partners to support commercially viable connected and automated mobility.”

Thomas Frank, executive director of U-M’s CFE, noted, “TechLab at Mcity represents a learning opportunity for engineering students that is uniquely available at U-M thanks to the commitment of faculty and the unparalleled resources of Mcity. We are expanding this program because the demand from both emerging companies and students interested in participating is extremely high. We believe in the model of applied learning as a key driver for innovation.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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