U.S. DOT announces $60 million in AV research grants


Eight projects in seven states received funding to advance research and testing of autonomous vehicle technology as part of a U.S. Department of Transportation grant program, the department said Wednesday.

The Automated Driving System Demonstration Grants were established with about $60 million available to test integration of automated driving systems, according to the DOT. Over 70 applicants, including states, universities and departments of transportation, applied for the funding.

The Ohio Department of Transportation, the City of Detroit and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority in California each received $7.5 million. The University of Iowa and Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station both received just over $7 million.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute received a total of $15 million for two projects. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation received more than $8.4 million.

Wednesday’s announcement came after representatives from a few of the states announced last week that they had received funding.

A look at the projects

DriveOhio, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s unit focused on new mobility initiatives, and the Transportation Research Center Inc., an independent automotive testing center in Ohio, will deploy automated transportation products focused on the state’s rural roads and highways with the grant.

The project will involve other Ohio mobility partners, including Ohio State University, Ohio University and the University of Cincinnati, the state said. Other partners are contributing $10.3 million in funds to the project, the state said.

The projects from Texas A&M and the University of Iowa also cite a focus on rural roads. Texas will develop automated driving systems without high-definition maps and with low-quality road signs, while the University of Iowa hopes to make an automated driving system focused on commercially available mobility.

“In many areas across the state and nation, rural roads play an important function in getting folks to school and work, which is why it is important that these roads are included at an early stage of the development of automated driving systems,” U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said in a statement.

Detroit’s grant will fund partnered efforts with the State of Michigan, the University of Michigan and the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Mich., on automated driving systems, according to an announcement Thursday.

The funding will be used to research, develop and test self-driving technologies at U-M’s Mcity testing center, the American Center for Mobility and in Detroit.

Several other partners under the Michigan Mobility Collaborative were involved in the application, including the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Cities of Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Wayne State University, Deloitte and Ford Motor Co.’s City:One crowdsourcing program.

The Pennsylvania DOT will explore integration of automated driving systems into work zones by examining connectivity, visibility and high-definition mapping.

The Contra Costa Transportation Authority is using the funds to support a four-year pilot program for three projects, each emphasizing a different demand on mobility solutions. One will focus on first- and last-mile shared autonomous vehicles for elderly people. The second will provide wheelchair-accessible AV shuttle services, and the third will equip the Interstate 680 Corridor in the county with new vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle technologies to improve personal mobility.

“We need to integrate advanced technologies, innovative solutions, new partnerships and creative ideas to support the next generation of mobility,” said Contra Costa Transportation Authority Executive Director Randell Iwasaki.

Virginia representatives said Virginia Tech’s funding is split between two projects. One will demonstrate scenarios related to interaction of vehicles with automated driving systems in a corridor “optimized for vehicle automation,” and the other will develop concepts related to trucks with automated driving systems.

AV funding phenomenon
The grants come amid a slew of investments automakers and other companies have been making in automated driving systems technology.

Toyota Motor Corp., along with suppliers Aisin Seiki Co. and Denso Corp. announced a $2.8 billion investment into automated driving software last year.

The automaker said in May that Toyota AI Ventures, the venture capital arm of the Toyota Research Institute, will open a second $100 million fund dedicated to pursuing mobility investments after launching its first fund with $100 million in July 2017.

Last year, Ford Motor Co. said its investments in autonomous vehicle development were expected to total $4 billion through 2023. Volkswagen Group invested $2.6 billion in Argo AI, Ford’s AV subsidiary, this year.

It was also reported this year that Uber has spent more than $1 billion on driverless vehicles.

Other organizations, such as PlanetM, the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s mobility unit, have also been key players in introducing smaller amounts of funding to companies or pilot programs looking to develop mobility technology in states.

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