U-M invests $600,000 in advanced transportation technologies

A radar system for autonomous cars and a 3-D printer that prints electrical wires are among seven projects that recently received a total $600,000 in investment from the University of Michigan (U-M).


The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Innovation Hub for Advanced Transportation (MTRAC) awarded $100,000 grants to five technologies, and two more received $50,000 each. That's up from a total of four projects that received MTRAC funding last year.


Eric Petersen, U-M MTRAC program director, says the program's oversight committee of industry experts make funding decisions based on the perceived risk and value of each project. Sometimes project leaders are asked to address the committee's concerns before being awarded an additional amount. The two technologies that received the lesser amounts will have the chance to get an additional $50,000 after reaching specific milestones set for them by the committee.


A high-frequency radar technology for autonomous vehicles was one of the projects receiving $100,000. Radar is able to see through rain and bad weather, Petersen says, and at highway speeds this technology would give an autonomous car more time to see and react to obstacles.


Another technology receiving $100,000 deposits diamond-like coatings onto cylinder bores to reduce friction in engines and, as a result, reduce fuel consumption. While the six other technologies came from U-M, this project came from Michigan State University's Fraunhofer Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies, a collaboration between the university and the German government.


A third technology involves building complex electrical assemblies with 3-D printing. The technology can print wires made of conducting material on the same printing head as plastic parts.


"This is going to change the way that parts are designed," Petersen says.


A fourth technology makes wireless power transfer in electric vehicles more efficient and flexible, Petersen says. Technology already exists to charge electric cars wirelessly, but these chargers can be fussy if the car isn't positioned just right.


"This technology can allow for different distances from the charging base to the bottom of the car, and different alignments," Petersen says. "It allows for lots of variability while still getting high efficiency."


The final technology receiving $100,000 is Your Own Planner, a travel planning search engine that is more flexible and provides lower-cost and more efficient itineraries.


"Instead of defining dates and locations, the technology asks for motivations, intentions, and constraints, and then develops a few different options for the user," Petersen says.


One of the projects receiving $50,000 is technology related to enhanced object recognition in robotics. Some robots use a laser to make a cloud of all the objects around their sensors, Petersen says.


"This proposal is an improvement on this method, so you get more information from the laser about what it bounces off of and back to," he says.


The second project receiving $50,000 is a system that improves the ability of autonomous vehicles to sense and interpret large amounts of data in real time while also consuming less power. The new technology compares and consolidates information from several different types of sensors, which reduces the computing load.


"There might be a bike that the radar sees, and a camera sees, and a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sees. This technology compares that information quickly, and when the sensors all agree, the computer tracks it as a bike rather than as three different sets of data," Petersen says.


More information about the program and past awardees is available at the MTRAC website.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Eric Petersen photo courtesy of Eric Petersen. Mcity photo by Doug Coombe.
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