Michigan’s top research universities share a mission: lead mobility R&D and prepare students to steer a changing industry
During AutoMobili-D 2023 in Detroit, Zoe Clark of Michigan Radio, far left, moderated a panel discussion about the work Michigan’s major research universities are doing to train the next-generation mobility workforce. Panelists included Judd Herzer, mobility director at Michigan State in East Lansing; Dr. Henry Liu, director of Mcity at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and Dr. Ali Abolmaali, dean of the College of Engineering at Wayne State in Detroit.
Experts from Michigan’s University Research Corridor ‒ an alliance of Michigan State University (MSU), the University of Michigan (U-M), and Wayne State University (WSU) ‒ highlighted how their universities are national leaders in mobility-related R&D and preparing students who will define the next generation of the mobility industry during a panel hosted Sept. 14 by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation at AutoMobili-D, part of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The URC’s three major research universities are one of the leading research clusters in preparing students to help shape the evolving mobility industry, with 14,986 mobility-career graduates in 2021-22. It also prepares more than 46% of Michigan graduates who hold degrees in high demand by the mobility industry, such as business, computer science and engineering degrees.
U-M’s Center for Connected and Automated Transportation (CCAT) brings together nine colleges and universities to focus on advancing the national transportation system with emerging technologies that address safety and sustainability. Based at U-M, CCAT is one of 10 regional university transportation centers funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It recently received a $15 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand its work.
CCAT Director Henry Liu is also director of Mcity, a U-M-led public-private partnership working to advance mobility and transportation safety, sustainability, equity and accessibility. In 2022, Mcity was awarded a $5.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to enable cloud-based, remote use of its test facility for advanced mobility vehicles and technologies by academic researchers nationwide.
U-M’s $130-million Electric Vehicle Center launched in April with a focus on accelerating collaborative R&D and workforce development. With an estimated $20 million of the state investment, the center will target both current and future generations of mobility workers with educational offerings at U-M and other institutions across the state, aiming to eventually engage more than 1,200 students a year throughout its network.
“From reducing traffic congestion to improving the safety testing of automated vehicles, the work we’re doing today is having a direct impact on the driving environment now and into the future,” said Henry Liu, director of both CCAT and Mcity, a U-M-led public-private mobility research partnership, and a U-M professor of civil and environmental engineering. “We’re also working closely with industry and preparing a workforce for the continued development and deployment of connected and automated transportation technologies.”
This year, MSU’s College of Engineering welcomed over 6,800 students. According to their data, 60% of those Spartan engineers will go on to live and work in Michigan after graduation. With recently launched efforts like the state of Michigan’s EV scholars program that places these student interns in companies like General Motors, Ford and Bosch, MSU is working to improve and support the talent pipeline in Michigan. Mcity is leading U-M’s participation in the EV Scholars program.
In addition to MSU’s live, connected ecosystem for smart-vehicle and sustainability technologies, students, researchers and industry partners will soon benefit from a new engineering and digital innovation center on campus. It will respond to industry needs and student demand, support economic development, leverage opportunities for testing integrated chip-based systems and support growth in materials research and emerging initiatives such as semiconductor research.
“Michigan State University offers innovative educational programs, unique research collaborations and opportunities to establish and grow industry relationships,” said Judd Herzer, director of MSU Mobility. “We want to send skilled talent to employers in Michigan and around the world to ensure the future and safety of mobility.”
U-M and WSU are both part of the Global Epicenter of Mobility, which is funded through a $52.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. As part of the initiative, U-M’s Economic Growth Institute plans to create an advanced mobility supply chain transformation center to support small and medium-sized manufacturers as they transition to the electric vehicle market. WSU is a part of TechTown Detroit’s Mobility Accelerator Innovation Network, which will grow a startup ecosystem and commercialization programs focused on mobility.
WSU’s new Center for Electric, Connected and Autonomous Technologies for Mobility (eCAT) received a five-year grant with a total budget of more than $4.5 million ($2.25M from NSF and $2.25M+ from industry). eCAT is an NSF IUCRC (Industry-University Cooperative Research Center) tasked with developing sustainable mobility technologies such as electrification, smart infrastructure and resilient edge computing systems for autonomous driving. WSU and its partner institutions are interested in closing a gap in synergistic research pertaining to electric vehicle design, autonomous systems, V2X communications and real-time edge computing. The center also benefits from an industrial advisory board comprised of high-level executives from OEMs, tier-1 suppliers, startups and IT companies.
“We are at the forefront of equipping our students with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the rapidly evolving field of mobility, ensuring they become the innovative leaders of tomorrow’s transportation industry,” said Dr. Ali Abolmaali, dean of WSU’s College of Engineering. “Research from our faculty and students, as well as direct input from our industry partners, provide a framework for project-based training using mobility principles and techniques to solve real-world challenges for a wide range of domains, particularly accessibility and infrastructure.”
For every dollar that Michigan has invested in URC institutions, the URC has put back $22 into the state economy, according to the most recent URC Economic Impact Report. The three URC universities conduct $2.64 billion in research and development, much in areas of critical importance to Michigan residents and key industries.
The three URC institutions enroll 155,000 students and grant nearly 13,000 degrees in high-tech areas annually, as well as nearly 13,500 degrees in high-demand areas such as business, computer science and engineering.