U-M Awarded Nearly $10M to Build Smart Intersections in Ann Arbor

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration has awarded the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor $9.95 million for a three-year project to build more than 20 smart intersections across the city.
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U-M has been awarded nearly $20 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation and corporate partners to build at least 20 smart intersections in Ann Arbor. // Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration has awarded the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor $9.95 million for a three-year project to build more than 20 smart intersections across the city.

U-M will receive $3.8 million directly and administer the remaining $6.2 million to subcontractors. Corporate partners contributed an additional $10 million of in-kind funding to the effort.

The intersections will be capable of gathering and transmitting information in real time to connected cars as part of a U-M effort to demonstrate the safety potential of connected and automated vehicles.

They will be fitted with cameras, radar, and infrared sensors to capture what is moving in the area, at what speed, and in what direction. The information will be sent instantaneously to connected vehicles in the area, triggering onboard warnings when cars are in dangerous situations.

Through the Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment, which is run by U-M, and its predecessor Safety Pilot Model Deployment, vehicles across the city have been communicating with one another and infrastructure since 2012. At its peak, nearly 3,000 vehicles were involved, making it the largest connected vehicle deployment in the world. The projects provided evidence that connected vehicles have the potential to reduce unimpaired crashes by 90 percent.

Connected and automated vehicles still have blind spots, and sensors can be fooled by poor weather. Sensors placed at intersections can provide additional data to these vehicles wirelessly, enhancing their capacity to detect dangers.

“One way to overcome the physical limitations of the onboard technology is to have these sensors placed locally that can provide information in situations where, say, line of sight is being blocked by a bus, or some other barrier,” says Henry Liu, professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Roadside sensors can detect a possible danger that is blocked and broadcast that danger’s information to the vehicle.”

Connected and automated vehicles would be alerted by the broadcast, which would trigger warning systems the model comes with such as beeping, vibrating, etc.

The project is also designed to provide low-cost proof of the viability of connected vehicles. With connected and automated vehicles making up a small percentage of cars currently on the road, the benefits of the latest safety technologies are hard to demonstrate, leading to a slow adoption of new technology.

“One of the most promising aspects of this project is that we will be able to pave the way for a national connected and automated vehicle deployment,” says James Sayer, director of the Transportation Research Institute. “We will definitively demonstrate not only the technology but a clear path to funding the infrastructure — both aspects needed for a national deployment. Furthermore, the smart intersections project will provide significant day one benefits to early adopters, including saving pedestrian lives.”

The project falls under the Department of Transportation’s Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program.

U-M’s public and private partners on the project are Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. Qualcomm, the city of Ann Arbor, Continental, Iteris, WSP, P3Mobility, Econolite, and Purdue University.

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