Verizon and Qualcomm are among 15 partners launching Mcity at the University of Michigan this week, a controlled testing environment for connected and automated vehicles that the project participants claim could clear the path for mass-market adoption of driverless cars.
The facility will allow researchers to simulate environments where connected and automated vehicles will be most challenged – for instance where road signs may be defaced by graffiti, or when traffic lights become faulty or break.
“There are many challenges ahead as automated vehicles are increasingly deployed on real roadways,” said Peter Sweatman, director of the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center. “Mcity is a safe, controlled, and realistic environment where we are going to figure out how the incredible potential of connected and automated vehicles can be realized quickly, efficiently and safely.”
Michigan – particularly the City of Detroit – has a longstanding (and to some extent troubled) history in automotive, but the University said the facility will help the State regain its leadership in the sector. The project builds on a 3,000 vehicle connected car project launched three years ago and co-funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation
As part of its participation with the project Verizon will be contributing its telematics technology, In-Drive, and is offering its own research into vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies. It will also help explore various ways to combine mobility, telematics and IoT services.
Other project partners include Iteris, Navistar, Denso, Ford, General Motors, Qualcomm and Xerox; each partner is investing about $1m into the project over the next three years.
Amit Jain, director of corporate strategy, IoT verticals at Verizon said the project will help create new vendor-agnostic and OEM-agnostic services that could improve road and pedestrian safety.
“Placing the onus on OEMs only to deploy technologies such as Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), for example, could take up to 37 years according to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). That’s why creating opportunities like Mcity to pool research and share best practices to expedite innovation is so important,” Jain said.
“Consider the fact that there are more than 30,000 fatalities in the US annually caused by vehicle accidents – of which 14 percent of those fatalities involve pedestrians. As part of our participation in Mcity, we will be involved in tailored research to explore how smart phones can be used to further enhance vehicle-to-pedestrian communications.”
Verizon has moved over the past few years to bolster its legacy M2M portfolio (industrial M2M, telematics) with the addition of new IoT services, which according to the telco now constitute a growing portion of its overall revenues – particularly connected cars. In a Q2 2015 earnings call with journalists and analysts this week Verizon’s chief financial officer Francis Shammo said that although IoT is still quite a nascent sector it raked in about $165m for the quarter and $320m year-to-date.
“As far as Internet of Things, we think that the transportation, healthcare, and energy industries in particular present great opportunities for us and we are very active fostering innovation in these areas,” Shammo said. “We are very well-positioned to capitalize on these new growth opportunities and we will continue to develop business models to monetize usage on our network and at the platform level.”