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Connecting Current Technicians to Connected Vehicles

Innovative centers at Washtenaw Community College and The University of Michigan prepare techs for mastering connected vehicle technology.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016 - 06:00
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Connected vehicles are becoming more commonplace, as current model year vehicles roll off the line with smart braking and lane departure technology already in place. Technicians around Ann Arbor, Mich., are getting a first-hand education on how the new technology works, how it should be maintained and problem solving the issues on these vehicles and beyond.

Students, faculty and researchers at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) in Ann Arbor conduct their studies, lessons and hands-on experiences at the college’s Advanced Transportation Center. WCC also partners with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and the Mcity collaborative to take these experiences to the street. Mcity is the life-like urban setting and testing ground for connected vehicles and corresponding infrastructure, a part in which WCC plays a large role. Al Lecz, director of the Advanced Transportation Center, says the center has been charged with defining the roles of both transportation workers and automotive professionals, outlining core competencies all will need from installation and operation through maintenance in the infrastructure and on the vehicle.

“We forecast that there will be a lot of public demand for aftermarket devices on older vehicles that would like to be getting some of the new OE equipment installed. People want the warning and safety messages in an aftermarket installation,” Lecz says. “Our automotive program is in the heart of that, teaching technicians how to install and how to make them work properly. Our faculty are working to up-skill and integrate those new skills into our current programs. It’s going to be a continuous thing. This is a crawl, walk and run of new technology being implemented in a learning and teaching process here at the college.”

Students enrolled in these advanced transportation courses and similarly in computer programming courses are immersed in the technology both in today’s and future vehicles as well as what goes into urban infrastructure. The Advanced Transportation Center at WCC consists of three areas: Intelligent Transportation Systems focused on safety, Advanced Manufacturing focused on what the vehicle is made of and how it’s built and Automotive Transportation Servicing focusing on repair and maintenance. It combines expertise from WCC and the University of Michigan to provide a deep understanding of current technology and where the possibilities could lead.

“Key WCC faculty and program managers have been working with UMTRI and Mcity for some time now, sharing information and even some prototype data communications equipment for testing,” Lecz said. “UMTRI leadership have keenly understood that implementation of Intelligence Transportation Systems technologies require not only transportation systems engineers, but also skilled technicians to install, maintain, diagnose and repair these systems. This common understanding of the roles of engineers and technicians in this field has been a big part of fostering the partnering relationship.”

The Mcity test facility comprises 32 acres and simulates a plethora of situations vehicles encounter in urban and suburban environments. Open for nearly one year now, the life-like R&D facility features nearly five lane-miles of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, benches, simulated buildings, streetlights and obstacles such as construction barriers.

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