Applied Research Associates Teams with MSU on Autonomous Vehicle R&D

The Michigan State University Foundation, an independent nonprofit that supports the commercialization of university inventions, has a new tenant in its 300,000-square-foot corporate research park in East Lansing.

Applied Research Associates (ARA), a contract R&D firm based in Albuquerque, NM, has moved a team to Michigan in order to support MSU’s autonomous vehicle research and development efforts and scout young talent, says Jeff Smith, director of MSU’s corporate research park.

ARA specializes in scientific research, technology testing, and product development in the fields of engineering, health, and alternative fuels. Smith describes the operation as “a team of engineers for hire that solve big problems, everything from national security to clean energy,” and says the official move into the research park is the culmination of years of relationship-building.

Smith says ARA will work with students from MSU’s College of Engineering to advance mobility technologies such as object recognition, data fusion, control systems, and artificial intelligence. MSU is a member of the American Center for Mobility’s academic consortium, an initiative with 15 universities and community colleges across the state to train the next generation of autonomous tech talent.

“On campus, we’ll be looking at autonomous vehicles, drones—unmanned everything is a lot of what ARA focuses on,” Smith says. “Our work at the research park also ties into talent acquisition. By the time [engineering students] are juniors and seniors, they may already have a relationship with another company, which makes it hard to court them. If we’re close to campus, we can build that relationship with students sooner.”

Smith predicts this model of public-private innovation partnerships will “really take off” in the next few years as industry searches for the next big ideas to develop and the young talent to develop them, and university research projects seek outside funding as federal support continues to decrease.

“We’re not necessarily focused on creating one or two jobs,” Smith explains. “We want to connect industry to startup and university activity. Those activities coming together under one umbrella will hopefully accelerate real economic growth.”

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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