TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan -- Michigan is bidding to become the equivalent of Silicon Valley in the field of connected vehicles, panelists told the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars here.
Were engaged to make sure Michigan is the center of all of this research, said Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. The state has set up connected-vehicle partnerships with Sweden, Wales, Taiwan, Canada and Australia.
It also has set up a number of technology test beds. These include three on public roads in suburban Detroit, funded either by Michigan or by the U.S. Department of Transportation. A fourth is on the way.
The test site funded by the U.S. government originally was designated for proof of concept only, said Mike Schagrin, project leader for IntelliDrive at the ITS joint program office of the U.S. Department of Transportation. But were looking at opening that up to private sector testing.
Our primary partners are carmakers and state departments of transportation, he said, but the government is trying to open up to other partners, too.
Roger Curtis, president of Michigan International Speedway, a NASCAR race site and the newest connected-vehicle test bed in the state, said: We provide that Switzerland, a neutral closed test facility where anybody can play.
You dont have to worry about going onto other companies test tracks and what you might see, he said. Plus, he said, the site offers what researchers want. We have all sorts of roads. We have wetlands and other types of terrain, as well as round-the-clock security.
Other connected-vehicle test site requirements that a survey of automotive r&d executives identified, and that the race site offers, include signalized intersections, line of sight obstructions such as bridges and tunnels, road signs, crosswalks, on-off ramps and parking areas.
The only requests that the r&d executives made that Michigan International Speedway -- which for several years served as a test facility for the now-defunct American Motors Corp. -- doesnt offer yet were toll roads and tram lines.
Youre the guys with the brainpower, he told the audience. We are, we hope, the hostess with the mostest.
Steudle noted that every year, 42,000 Americans die on the roads. Half of those deaths involve intersection collisions and other forms of accidents that vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure communications might be able to prevent, he said.
In addition, the nascent technologies represent a potential growth industry that could add up to 16,000 jobs in Michigan, if we are successful, he said, citing a study by the Center for Automotive Research.
But he also laid out what he called the top five obstacles to further progress in connected vehicles:
The lack of a stable funding source
The lack of a federal mandate
The lack of a leader at a high level to champion the technology
The absence of a clear plan for deployment of the technology
The current financial crisis in the auto industry.
Despite those obstacles, Steudle said: Its time to deploy. Weve studied this. Its time to get on with it.