Upton Applauds Department of Energy Grant for Western Michigan University

Date: July 29, 2021
Location: Washington, DC

Today, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, applauded a $2 million Department of Energy grant awarded to Western Michigan University (WMU) to investigate five types of infrastructure-based sensors to improve energy efficiency in autonomous vehicles. That includes technology that could be embedded in a roadway, sensors that could offload data through a cellular network, and systems to draw information from existing infrastructure data. The grant is funded through the Department's Vehicle Technologies Office as part of its larger $60 million investment in 24 projects nationwide to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

Among several priorities, these projects will support research and development in battery efficiency, electrification, new mobility systems, lightweight manufacturing materials, fuel emissions reduction, and transportation and energy analysis.

"This nearly $2 million will be a well-deserved boost for WMU's ongoing autonomous vehicle research" said Rep. Upton. "More energy-efficient and cost-effective vehicle technology developed at institutions like WMU will help reduce emissions and power the future. As the auto capital of the world, Michigan will surely continue to play an outsized role in these cutting-edge initiatives that will create jobs and support economic development."

"We're grateful for this investment, which is a wonderful vote of confidence in our track record and research efforts improving autonomous vehicle technology," said Dr. Steven Carr, interim vice president for research and innovation at WMU. "Now WMU has the potential to be a leader in a unique approach to advancing autonomous vehicles. Improving the precision of the technology in this manner will set us apart."

Dr. Zach Asher, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at WMU, has been pursuing autonomous vehicle research at WMU for several years, and will be the lead on this Department of Energy supported initiative.

"I am excited about this project because it's a fundamentally different approach to achieving autonomous vehicles than what researchers have done to date," said Asher. "This project means a lot to Western because we have a chance to start contributing to the statewide mobility ecosystem. I think this is a major initiative that will catalyze future efforts in this area."

In May, Upton visited WMU's Business Technology and Research Park - a high-tech business development that brings private firms and university researchers together - to see firsthand the work researchers, faculty, and students are doing to develop cleaner energy solutions. He also met with Dr. Zach Asher to discuss his research in more depth.

WMU and Dr. Asher kicked off this groundbreaking work in September of 2019, with support from the Michigan Mobility Challenge. Dr. Asher's work among autonomous & electric vehicles will be bolstered by the Department of Energy's investment, and will focus on high quality perception data to achieve energy efficient autonomous vehicle operation through computation reductions and offloading.