In this 2016 file photo, Dr. James R. Sayer, director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, shows WCC President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca around the streets of Mcity, a 32-acre simulated urban environment used to test connected and autonomous vehicle technology. | Photo by Lynn Monson

Washtenaw Community College secured its position as a key player in the future of transportation as a result of a recent grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The DOT grant names the University of Michigan as lead institution in a new $2.47 million center that will explore how communities can make the transition to connected and autonomous vehicles.

WCC was the only community college named in the federally funded Center for Connected and Automated Transportation (CCAT). Other institutions of higher learning involved are Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Akron and Central State University.

“This is a great opportunity for WCC and its university partners to better understand the mobility transformation impact not only on jobs, skills and competencies for the workforce, but also on society and our students as the transportation experience begins to change,” said Al Lecz, director of WCC’s Advanced Transportation Center.

The new center will conduct research in autonomous vehicle technology; design of advanced roadways, intersections and bridges; control of connected and automated transportation systems and public acceptance of self-driving vehicles.

The consortium of institutions is expected to establish new courses to train engineers, technicians and entrepreneurs who can serve as leaders in this fast-moving transportation revolution.

Research is well underway at U-M with its 32-acre Mcity site on North Campus, where connected and autonomous vehicles are tested and monitored by researchers in a safe environment before taking them out on public roads.

WCC students already have been involved in some of the research, helping to install communication modules. These modules include Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) units that secure vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure messages, a key part of the Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment project.

“Connected and autonomous vehicles will have a disruptive impact on our transportation system,” said Henry Liu, U-M professor of civil and environmental engineering and CCAT leader.

“While connected and automated vehicle technologies will continue to advance towards incorporation into public roadway systems, there exist a variety of open questions and issues on technology development, policy and planning, and system design and operations that require answers and resolution. CCAT aims to address some of these questions.”

WCC President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca said the college is proud to be part of the consortium.

“I’m confident this center will play a unique regional role in promoting connected and automated transportation research, education, workforce development and technology transfer activities, which are all critically important to the future of the region’s economy,” she said.