KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Engineers at Western Michigan University have received a $2.5 million grant from the federal government to research ways that upgrading infrastructure could make autonomous vehicles better.
The money from the U.S. Department of Energy will flow into the WMU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences over the next three years. Ph.D.s Zachary Asher, Rick Meyer and Alvis Fong are heading up the research into infrastructure-based technology to improve energy efficiency in autonomous vehicles.
One arm of the project is to see whether roads can do some of the data collection work now being done by the autonomous vehicle, draining its battery. For example, they may look into lining roads with sensors to measure environmental conditions rather than having the car do it.
“It’s an approach that no one has really pursued too heavily at this point, and we’re the lucky ones who get to do it,” Asher said in a release from WMU.
The research will look at five data collection sensor issues. The goal: make autonomous vehicles cheaper and more energy efficient by requiring them to do less work.
“What this means for Western is we have a chance to start majorly contributing to the statewide mobility ecosystem. We have a chance to start expanding the entire state of Michigan’s influence in this area,” Asher said in a statement.
In 2019, the university began piloting a small autonomous shuttle on campus. Since then, Asher said, the Energy Efficient and Autonomous Vehicles Lab has grown.
“We’ve expanded a lot since the 2019 pilot on Western’s campus where we had a low-speed autonomous shuttle and so now we have this full-speed automotive vehicle and we also have another one in development,” Asher said.
Ph.D. student Nicolas Brown, who works on autonomous vehicle projects, said the ultimate goal of autonomous technology is to improve safety.
“Most crashes are caused by human errors so it would be nice to have autonomy take over and kind of have a better handle on things,” Brown said.