Driverless vehicle startups move into U-M incubator

August 22, 2016
Driverless vehicle at M city test facility

Three high-potential companies from the West Coast—Zendrive, PolySync and Civil Maps—will join TechLab at Mcity this fall, moving resources to develop their driverless vehicle technologies in Ann Arbor.

The move is part of an expansion of an innovative program designed to drive the future of mobility, announced the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship, in partnership with the U-M Mobility Transformation Center.

“The U-M Mobility Transformation Center is pleased to welcome the fall class of TechLab companies,” said Carrie Morton, deputy director of MTC. “We’re excited to bring these disruptors and their innovative technologies into the ecosystem MTC is building with its partners to support commercially viable connected and automated mobility.”

TechLab is an experiential learning incubator that matches early-stage technology with students interested in applying classroom learning to practical technology development. The students help bring connected and driverless innovations closer to market. Mcity, operated by the U-M Mobility Transformation Center, is the world’s first controlled environment specifically designed to test the potential of connected and automated vehicle technologies.

“TechLab at Mcity represents a learning opportunity for engineering students that is uniquely available at U-M thanks to the commitment of faculty and the unparalleled resources of Mcity,” said Thomas Frank, executive director of U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship. “We are expanding this program because the demand from both emerging companies and students interested in participating is extremely high. We believe in the model of applied learning as a key driver for innovation.”

In February 2016, CFE launched the pilot of TechLab with Zendrive, a Bay Area startup founded by Google and Facebook veterans. The positive outcomes from this initial partnership demonstrated a valuable collaboration among university research, advanced transportation startups and student innovators. At the completion of the independent study period, participating students presented key ideas they learned to faculty, venture capitalists and stakeholders working on the autonomous mobility technologies.

Several students continued work over the summer as Zendrive interns. The company returns to TechLab this fall to accelerate the development of technology that uses a driver’s smartphone to measure actions such as acceleration, braking, swerving and phone use. Driver safety is the ultimate goal for this emerging technology. Earlier this year, Zendrive secured $13.5 million in funding to improve the technology and expand its team.

“As the first company to be a part of the TechLab program, Zendrive and U-M have offered students a one-of-a-kind opportunity to work with data and advanced connected vehicles,” said Zendrive CEO Jonathan Matus. “Continuing our collaboration with U-M will progress our research and development, taking essential steps to benchmark safety for self-driving cars. TechLab is the ultimate coming-together of Detroit and Silicon Valley to bridge groundbreaking technology and research.”

New companies in the fall 2016 TechLab cohort also include:

PolySync—An operating system, built for the high-bandwidth, high-compute requirements of fully autonomous driving. The system turns algorithms, sensors and actuators into plug and play applications, allowing developers to focus less on coding and more on user experience.
Civil Maps—A 3-D mapping technology to help fully autonomous vehicles to drive anywhere smoothly and safely. Through artificial intelligence and vehicle-based local processing, Civil Maps converts sensor data into meaningful map information built specifically to direct driverless vehicles. In July, the company raised $6.6 million in a seed funding round led by Motus Ventures.

“As an innovator in making fully autonomous vehicle maps, our affiliation with TechLab puts us at the epicenter of the national transportation community and affords us a direct pipeline to U-M experts and resources,” said Civil Maps CEO Sravan Puttagunta. “At Civil Maps, we are transforming the mapping industry and providing highly accurate, real-time maps essential to the industry’s path toward autonomous vehicles.”

The fall TechLab cohort begins Sept. 6, when selected U-M engineering students start work on a semester-long project tailored to the needs of each participating company.

“Automated driving exists at this really interesting intersection of robotics, cars and computers,” said PolySync co-founder and CEO Josh Hartung. “The problems we are seeing there are quite literally the first of their kind. TechLab is one of the pioneering programs preparing an entirely new kind of engineer to build a future few of us can yet imagine, and we’re really excited to be helping them in their mission.”

More information:

Civil Maps
U-M Center for Entrepreneurship
U-M Mobility Transformation Center