A new US$27m investment from a Chinese firm will strengthen the efforts of the University of Michigan (U-M), along with its industry and government partners, to advance the development and deployment of autonomous, connected vehicles and robotic technologies around the world.
U-M president, Mark Schlissel, and vice president for research, S Jack Hu, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Frontt Capital Management Ltd, a Shenzhen-based investment firm focused on developing the intelligent vehicle industry in China. The funding will:
Establish a Joint Research Center for Intelligent Vehicles at U-M to support faculty projects on autonomous vehicle technologies;
Contribute toward construction of the recently approved Robotics Laboratory (bottom) and a vehicle garage on U-M’s North Campus that would be located near Mcity, the simulated urban-suburban environment for testing connected and automated vehicles (CAVs). The garage will create a place for researchers at U-M and its industry partners to work on, maintain, and store vehicles;
Provide engineering service and consulting fees for U-M researchers to advise Frontt on design of a unique autonomous vehicle test facility in Shenzhen, which will simulate the country’s unique transportation environment.
The relationship with Frontt grew out of Governor Rick Snyder’s effort to strengthen trade relations between Michigan and China that in May led to the establishment of the Michigan-Shenzhen Trade, Investment and Innovation Cooperation Center. U-M leaders say Frontt’s investment will further strengthen its ongoing work with multiple partners to address the technical, social, economic, legal, political, and business challenges of deploying CAVs on a large scale. The unique facility in Shenzhen would be developed and used to test new technologies and demonstrate how CAVs could improve safety, efficiency, and sustainability in China. The new Chinese facility will simulate the country’s unique transportation environment, which includes different road conditions, traffic density, traffic patterns, and culture. Once the facility opens, U-M’s industry partners would have the means to test their CAVs in an environment that is distinct from that of the USA.
“In China, there are more cyclists and pedestrians, and shorter on-ramps, for example,” said U-M’s Hu. “The U-M faculty will be helping to analyze China’s special traffic challenges and scenarios, so they can be effectively addressed by the new facility. The potential to save lives is tremendous, and since autonomous vehicles are safer, they could eventually be made of lighter-weight materials, so they’d use less fuel. Vehicle safety and sustainability are common challenges no matter where you live. We all have the potential to benefit from what we create and discover together through this partnership.”
Schlissel added, “Fatal crashes are all too common, and transportation is one of the largest sources of climate changing greenhouse gases. 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. Frontt’s investment in U-M people and technology will help advance mobility in a way that we believe will ripple across the globe.”