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Car and Driver: West Coast Startups Will Test Autonomous Tech at Michigan’s Mcity


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Although their perceived rivalry gets far more attention, Silicon Valley and Detroit collaborate as much as they compete.


The latest example of their joint effort to build the auto industry’s future has come with the announcement that three West Coast automotive startups will join a business incubator housed at the University of Michigan to further develop autonomous-vehicle technology.


Zendrive, Civil Maps, and PolySync will partner with students and researchers to test their respective technologies at the university’s 32-acre autonomous-vehicle proving ground named Mcity, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The three companies are part of the university’s TechLab, an incubator operated by a partnership between the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship and its Mobility Transformation Center.


TechLab begins on September 6, when selected engineering students will be assigned to work with each company. At the end of the semester, students will present their findings to venture capitalists, representatives from car and tech companies, and other researchers.


“We’re excited to bring these disruptors and their innovative technologies into the ecosystem MTC is building with its partners to support commercially viable connected and automated mobility,” said Carrie Morton, deputy director of the Mobility Transformation Center.


The venture will bring Civil Maps, a Berkeley, California, startup developing 3D mapping technology, closer to its latest benefactor. Last week, Ford, which also tests autonomous cars at Mcity, made an undisclosed investment in the company.




“They’ve developed an innovative process to apply artificial intelligence to create this meaningful map information,” Ford chief technology officer Raj Nair said, “and that facilitates the ability to crowd-source data, update the data, and share it across our network of autonomous vehicles.”


San Francisco-based Zendrive has developed a product that uses the sensors in an ordinary smartphone to capture driving data associated with hard braking, acceleration, swerving, and phone use. That information can be used to coach motorists on developing safer and more efficient behaviors behind the wheel. The company was the first to join Michigan’s incubator this spring, and the fall session marks a continuation of its earlier work.


PolySync of Portland, Oregon, is designing a middleware platform, which is a form of computer software that allows automakers to develop, test, and validate self-driving applications more quickly.


“Automated driving exists at this really interesting intersection of robotics, cars, and computers,” said PolySync CEO Josh Hartung. “The problems we are seeing there are quite literally the first of their kind. TechLab is one of the pioneering programs preparing an entirely new kind of engineer to build a future few of us can yet imagine, and we’re really excited to be helping them in their mission.”


Michigan opened Mcity in July 2015. At the time, local and regional government officials hailed its arrival as a way to help the state of Michigan keep as much automotive research and development as possible entrenched in the Great Lakes State. With the rollout of the TechLab, the university has taken one more step toward doing exactly that.


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