With $11M in New Funding, Mcity Looks Ahead to 2018 and Beyond

Mcity, the autonomous vehicle research center on the University of Michigan campus, announced this week that it has raised $11 million in new funding from 11 industry partners. (See list below.)

These partners help Mcity identify opportunities as well as the challenges in bringing them to fruition, and weigh in on the direction of the center’s research. According to U-M, Mcity is the only advanced mobility R&D center that combines early-stage research, testing in a real-world environment, and on-road vehicle deployments to further prove new technologies.

This second phase of fundraising was planned from the beginning, but Mcity says it also reflects the success of the collaborative, public-private model U-M is using to accelerate the development of self-driving technologies. The investments run in three-year cycles, and many partners are repeat investors.

“The renewal rate we saw is an indication that the experiment is a success,” says Carrie Morton, Mcity’s deputy director.

The center’s 32-acre site contains a test bed meant to replicate real-world driving conditions, complete with a miniature town. Mcity’s mission is to develop and implement connected and automated vehicle technologies by bringing together academia, industry, and government.

Since it opened in 2015, Mcity has spent approximately $20 million on 40 research projects. Asked to give a couple of examples of what the research has covered, Morton says there was a lot of work done in the area of “human factors,” such as understanding the transition of control between a person and a self-driving car, as well as various cybersecurity projects. Mcity will soon release a framework for assessing security risks in autonomous vehicles, she says.

Augmented and virtual reality have also been used at Mcity to speed up vehicle testing, enabling researchers to simulate, for example, the presence of a crowded roadway and then study the autonomous vehicle’s response to traffic conditions.

“We’ve developed an approach to accelerate the evaluation of connected and autonomous vehicles,” Morton says. “These vehicles have to drive billions of miles to validate the technology, which is a physical impossibility. Augmented reality allows us to quickly create traffic scenarios and do testing faster, cheaper, and safer. We don’t have to put people in harm’s way or marshal thousands of drivers.”

In 2018, Morton says, Mcity will deploy driverless shuttles that are currently being tested without passengers. The center also operates a fleet of autonomous research vehicles. She’s looking forward to seeing what the initial consumer reaction will be once Mcity’s vehicles leave the research environment for the open road.

“It’s one of the first deployments where we’ll be sharing information on the consumer experience,” she adds.

The newly raised $11 million came from Delphi, Denso, Econolite Group, Ford, GM, Honda, Intel, LG, State Farm, Toyota, and Verizon. The university says total investment in connected and automated vehicle R&D activities on campus will exceed $100 million by 2020.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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