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Chinese firm invests $27M with U of Michigan to advance autonomous vehicle research and development

Frontt Capital Management Ltd, a Shenzhen-based investment firm focused on developing the intelligent vehicle industry in China, is making a $27-million investment to advance autonomous, connected vehicles and robotic technologies with the University of Michigan, along with industry and government partners.

Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed between Frontt and U-M, the funding will establish a Joint Research Center for Intelligent Vehicles at U-M to support faculty projects on autonomous vehicle technologies. The funding will also cContribute toward construction of the recently approved Robotics Laboratory and a vehicle garage on U-M's North Campus that would be located near Mcity, the simulated urban-suburban environment for testing connected and automated vehicles.

The garage will create a place for researchers at U-M and its industry partners to work on, maintain and store vehicles.

The funding also will provide engineering service and consulting fees for U-M researchers to advise Frontt on design of a unique autonomous vehicle test facility in Shenzhen, China. The facility will simulate the country’s unique transportation environment.

U-M is already working with companies from a range of industries and countries across the globe, as well as US government at all levels, to address the technical, social, economic, legal, political and business challenges of deploying autonomous and connected vehicles on a large scale. U-M leaders say Frontt’s investment will further strengthen ongoing work in this space.

The unique facility in Shenzhen would be developed and used to test new technologies and demonstrate how connected and automated vehicles could improve safety, efficiency, and sustainability in China.

China is the world’s most populous nation and one of its largest and fastest growing economies. At the same time, it contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than any other nation. Driverless and connected vehicles could offer transportation modes there that save lives and operate with greater energy efficiency, said U-M Vice President for Research S. Jack Hu.

More than 200,000 people die as a result of road accidents in China every year, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers estimate that autonomous and connected vehicles could reduce traffic deaths and injuries by as much as 90%.

The potential to save lives is tremendous. And since autonomous vehicles are safer, they could eventually be made of lighter-weight materials, so they’d use less fuel. Vehicle safety and sustainability are common challenges no matter where you live. We all have the potential to benefit from what we create and discover together through this partnership.

—S. Jack Hu

The Chinese facility will simulate the country’s unique transportation environment, which includes different road conditions, traffic density, traffic patterns and culture. Once the facility opens, U-M’s industry partners would have the means to test their autonomous and connected vehicles in an environment that’s distinct from that of the US, Hu said.

In China, there are more bicyclists and pedestrians, and shorter on-ramps, for example. U-M faculty will be helping to analyze China‘s special traffic challenges and scenarios so they can be effectively addressed by the new facility.

—S. Jack Hu

This investment will also help bring to life U-M’s planned 140,000-square-foot Robotics Laboratory, slated to open in winter 2020. In it, robotic technologies for air, sea and roads, for factories, hospitals and homes will have tailored lab space. The building will be situated just down the road from Mcity.

The relationship with Frontt grew out of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s effort to strengthen trade relations between Michigan and China. He has made several trade visits to China during his term, and he has welcomed Chinese leaders to Michigan. Most recently, in May, Chinese government officials from Guangdong Province and its City of Shenzhen came to Michigan and joined with Snyder to establish the Michigan-Shenzhen Trade, Investment and Innovation Cooperation Center.


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