WCC connects with driverless car program

Concept image: American Center for Mobility | Initial construction at the proving grounds includes a 2.5-mile highway loop with on and off ramps and a tunnel, among other features.

By Rebecca Gordon
Staff Writer

Washtenaw Community College is one of three community colleges that will be involved in a new facility to test and research connected and automated vehicles at the former World II-era bomber manufacturing plant at Willow Run in Ypsilanti Township.

Connected vehicles are connected to one another and to the infrastructure. The technology is called CAV, connected and automated vehicles, V2V, vehicle-to-vehicle, and V2I, vehicle-to-infrastructure.

The American Center for Mobility, which opens in December, is a U.S. Department of Transportation-endorsed proving ground for the testing, development, and education involving CAV’s and smart infrastructure. The ACM is leasing the location at Willow Run.

Students through WCC’s Automotive Department, and the Advanced Transportation Center, will get the chance to take vehicles to the proving ground to test them, though the Information Technology Department and Automotive Department are working to define and develop programs to be held at the ACM.

“The ACM and all of its investing partners, industry, the State of Michigan, they’ve already identified some of the career programs that are needed to address the skill and competency needs by industry when they’re out there testing,” said Alan Lecz, director of the Advanced Transportation Center at WCC.

Courtesy: Michigan Economic Development Corp. | A conceptual rendering of the planned American Center for Mobility at Willow Run.

Those careers include CAV repair and maintenance technicians, sensor technicians, traffic signal repair and maintenance, infrastructure engineering, urban planning and software and network configuration.

“We bring obviously a myriad of expertise,” said Lecz. “Sensors, all of those things required for technicians, this is our niche. Our technicians will be trained on how to diagnose those complicated sensor functions that are getting more and more complicated every model year.”

WCC is in the lead of a consortium of community colleges to be involved at the ACM, which includes Macomb Community College, and Wayne County Community College District. Macomb Community College brings its expertise from its nationally recognized Center for Advanced Automotive Technology, while Wayne will bring their cybersecurity expertise to the party.

WCC intends to begin operations at the ACM by offering workforce training and development. Contracts between the college and companies to train and “upskill” workers in the new technologies involved with connected vehicles will be how they roll out the program.

“The number one driver for this is safety,” said Lecz. He said the DOT released statistics for traffic fatalities for 2015 at over 30,000, and numbers for 2016 are estimated to be near 40,000 when released. “So it’s going the wrong way after years of declining,” said Lecz.

The U.S. DOT approved 10 proving grounds similar to the ACM’s at Willow Run to advance the safe deployment of automated technology. Proving grounds across the country include the Texas AV Proving Ground Partnership, Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners, the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center, and others.

Safety standards involving connected vehicles have yet to be set, and industry professionals are trying to develop those now.

“You need a place to try out all this stuff, and that’s a part of the work that will go on there,” said Lecz.

The 335-acre area property offers a variety of different environments for testing connected vehicles.

“The ACM is utilizing all this infrastructure that is already there, because there’s a triple decker that is here already,” said Lecz. “There are railroads there, there is these overpasses, there’s tunnels. These are the things that we have to test against.”

The facility will also establish the means to test vehicles on highway on and off ramps and loops, along with erecting faux urban areas, residential areas with cul-de-sacs, commercial streets, and off-road scenarios. The added benefit of the four seasons in Michigan will also allow for more rigorous testing, according to Lecz.

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