Universities showcase their autonomous efforts at NAIAS


This feature is courtesy of Driven, the story of how the Detroit region is leading the world in next-generation mobility.

The talent pipeline for the future of mobility rests at colleges and universities.

So it should come as no surprise that about two dozen colleges and related organizations from Michigan, Ohio, Ontario, Canada, and more were among the exhibitors and panel participants at in the Universities and Associations community at AutoMobili-D during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS).

Many of the colleges returned to NAIAS to recruit students, market their academic and skills training courses, and to showcase research opportunities. They also shared some of their achievements or works-in-progress in the mobility sector.

Parked outside the entrance to AutoMobili-D was a driverless shuttle already in operation on the North Campus of the University of Michigan (U-M).

Tested at the university’s Mcity, a controlled setting for testing connected and automated vehicles and technologies, the shuttle bus was manufactured by a French firm, NAVYA, who opened up a manufacturing facility in Saline, Mich. The bus can carry up to 15 passengers and runs a mile-long loop in Ann Arbor as part of a research project. It’s also used to demonstrate autonomous vehicle technology at Mcity.

Like other universities, U-M is collaborating with industry, local governments, including the city of Detroit, the city of Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw Community College.

“The future is not just for engineers with four-year degrees,” says James R. Sayer, director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. “There’s a need for two-year or associate degrees. We need people who know how to fix these vehicles of the future.”


Cross-state rival Michigan State University (MSU), also heavily involved in developing technologies for next-generation vehicles and smart cities, showcased a toy-size Lego-built vehicle to demonstrate roadway sensors. The sensors can detect damage in roadways, which will ultimately be used to keep autonomous vehicles in the appropriate lane.

In East Lansing, MSU has created a connected 8.1-square mile campus with 60 miles of road that includes embedded pavement sensors and connected traffic signals. The campus is used for testing emerging technologies and validating CAV systems.

Returning for a third year, Washtenaw Community College (WCC) exhibited an unusual-looking mechanical contraption, the Polaris Slingshot. Each modification on the creature-like vehicle highlights a different skill or technology either taught on campus or being worked into offerings.

It’s all part of the college’s efforts to create a talent pipeline for vehicles of the future through its Advanced Transportation Center. The center offers degree and certificate programs and training to provide in-demand skills to work in the mobility sector.

“What better place to demonstrate what we offer than at the North American International Auto Show,” said Dr. Rose B. Bellance, WCC president.

The Michigan Technological University (MTU) displayed a Chevrolet Bolt, framed by fake snow, and a jet ski.

It turns out autonomous jet skis also are in our future. Students at MTU are collecting data from Coast Guard-driven jet skis in choppy water to assess how humans maneuver them in adverse conditions.

“We’re the only with a boat at the auto show,” laughs Katie Buehner, assistant director of industry relations at the Houghton college. “It’s a good way to talk about what we’re doing at MTU.”

Visit Driven and learn how the Detroit region is leading the world in next-generation mobility.

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