University of Michigan offers open-access autonomous cars to advance research


The University of Michigan (U-M) is offering use of new research vehicles that will be open testbeds for academic and industry researchers to rapidly test self-driving and connected vehicle technologies at its world-class proving ground.

The open connected and automated research vehicles (open CAVs) are equipped with multiple sensors, including radar, lidar, and cameras, among other features, and will be able to link to a robot operating system. An open development platform for connected vehicle communications will be added later. The open CAVs are based at Mcity, U-M’s simulated urban and suburban environment for testing automated and connected vehicles. While a handful of other institutions may offer similar research vehicles, U-M is the only one that also operates a high-tech, real-world testing facility. Although auto makers and technology companies are making key advances in the development of autonomous vehicles, they are doing so on proprietary systems.

U-M’s open CAV initiative aims to solve several challenges to further development, including:

• the lack of open testbeds that has the potential to bottleneck innovation;

• researchers and technology developers with ideas for improving components or system controls outside the automotive companies have no way to assess whether they will work in the real-world; and

• students have limited options for studying connected and automated systems.

U-M’s Mobility Transformation Center (MTC), which operates Mcity, is offering use of its first open CAV, a Lincoln MKZ sedan that is powered by PolySyn’s autonomy platform. Two Kia Soul compact crossovers will join the Lincoln and will also be equipped with the new PolySync Open Source Car Control kit, which was launched at AutoMobility LA, enables complete ‘drive by-wire’ control and provides the foundation for rapid driverless vehicle development. MTC will add dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) capabilities to the vehicles to support the intersection of connected and automated vehicle control, and allow development of connected vehicle applications. With such capabilities, vehicles can anonymously and securely ‘talk’ to each other via wireless communications to improve safety.

“The combination will be transformational,” said Carrie Morton, deputy director of MTC, a public-private partnership that involves more than 60 industry partners. “By providing a platform for faculty, students, industry partners, and startups, to test connected and automated vehicle technologies, open CAVs will break down technology barriers and dramatically speed up innovation. We’re democratizing access to automated vehicle technology for research and education. A high entry barrier into this emerging field, in terms of cost and time, can make it difficult for new players to engage, and that’s a problem if society is to get connected, automated and driverless vehicles out of the research lab and onto the road.”

MTC director and professor of mechanical engineering, Huei Peng, said, “From a research perspective, the open CAVs are completely adaptable. Researchers can bring in their own hardware; swap out any sensor they’d like; or they can create advanced controls to take advantage of various sensor technologies already on the vehicles. And they have the ability to explore how it works in a real mobility system at Mcity.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).