Smarter. Safer. More Connected.
Spartans help map the future for autonomous and connected vehicles.
Michigan State University’s culture of innovation and leading-edge automotive research puts faculty and students in the driver’s seat as they design and build forward-thinking vehicles and technologies that are changing the mobility landscape.
With its strong and diverse expertise in disciplines related to autonomous and connected vehicles, MSU was one of just a handful of universities invited to participate in last year’s World Mobility Leadership Forum, an international gathering devoted to promoting the development of autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. And its efforts are gaining momentum.
Innovation for the road ahead
MSU researchers are involved in crucial work that will someday make self-driving vehicles not just a reality, but commonplace. Their goal: to seamlessly integrate mobility, safety and security in autonomous and connected vehicles while creating a clear picture of the interwoven systems affecting vehicles, passengers and the entire transportation landscape of the future.
Working as part of a project known as CANVAS—Connected and Autonomous Networked Vehicles for Active Safety—MSU scientists in a range of disciplines and colleges are focusing much of their attention on several key areas, including traditional radars; laser radars, also known as lidars; computer software; and development of artificial intelligence algorithms that allow a vehicle to maneuver in its environment.
“Much of our work focuses on technology that integrates the vehicle with its environment,” says Hayder Radha, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of CANVAS. “In particular, MSU is a recognized leader in computer vision, radars and antenna design, high-assurance computing and related technologies, all areas that are at the core of self-driving vehicles.”
One example of their work: Making sure the autonomous vehicle has the ability to communicate with other vehicles and the infrastructure surrounding it. Such communications enable a car to detect other vehicles that are approaching an intersection and recognize whether the other vehicle is going to stop in time.
A connected vehicle, says John Verboncoeur, associate dean for research in MSU’s College of Engineering, also can be used to synchronize traffic lights, so traffic can move more efficiently and reduce backups.
“If the sensors in the car and in traffic lights are communicating,” he says, “much information can be gathered—information that can save lives and fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Biometrics and recognition technology research at MSU will also be an invaluable part of an autonomous vehicle. Specifically, says Verboncoeur, the technology will monitor not only the identity but also the health and well-being of a vehicle’s occupants.
“In the event of a problem, a human has to be ready to take over,” Verboncoeur says. “This technology will help understand a person’s status. Are they sleeping? Or perhaps visually impaired?”
If a vehicle occupant is unable to drive, the technology can detect that and pull the car over safely to the side of the road.
Last year MSU acquired a car that, while not a self-driving vehicle, is equipped with a variety of intelligent devices and sensors, including a series of radars and lidars, cameras and accompanying software that could someday be used in an autonomous vehicle.
For example, the lidar technology has the ability to develop a 3-D map of the area in which the car is driving for maneuverability improvement, as well as to develop advanced algorithms that will assist in navigating a particular environment. Radars, on the other hand, can quickly detect a variety of objects that are moving or are stationary in the vicinity of the car or at longer distances under various weather conditions, including fog and snow, by using high frequency signals.
“We are testing and conducting performance analysis of state-of-the-art sensors,” Radha says. “We’re examining which ones perform the best. How good are they at detecting objects? And what are the best algorithms for recognizing these objects and for maneuvering a vehicle around them?”
Radha notes that the sensors generate huge amounts of data, so big data analysis is another important piece of CANVAS.
“We’re continuously collecting data and analyzing it as part of our focus,” he says. “Furthermore, since MSU established the new Department of Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering, we are well positioned to consult leading experts to help us advance that part of our research.”
As thousands of visitors and industry leaders gather in Detroit for the 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), scheduled for Jan. 8-22, MSU faculty and students will display two automobiles, a vehicle Spartan engineers have been using to test the latest in autonomous-vehicle technology—as well as a student-designed and built Formula SAE racecar.
Last September, the MSU Formula SAE Racing Team earned first place honors in the driver’s championship—by setting the fastest lap of the day—and second place overall during the 15th Annual University of Toronto Shootout at Mosport Kartways in Ontario.
In May, the racing team ranked No. 5 out of 120 international teams in the 2016 Formula SAE-Michigan competition at Michigan International Speedway. The Spartans were the second-highest ranked American team at MIS.