ANN ARBOR, MI – The Connected Vehicle Proving Center (CVPC) is expected to solidify Detroit as the world leader in advanced vehicle safety technology, industry stakeholders say here at the facility’s recent dedication.

An initiative of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) and the Connected Vehicle Trade Association, the CVPC leverages a combination of state, university and corporate money to test, evaluate and showcase connected vehicle systems, smart roadway infrastructure and related technology. The center’s mission is to advance technology that someday will allow vehicles to “talk” with each other – and to the roadway – to avoid crashes.

The CVPC also will provide expertise in evaluation design, data storage and analysis and information sharing.

Bob Lange, GM executive director-structure and safety integration, characterizes the CVPC as a means to further address one of the nation’s great public health challenges.

Lange says regulators, auto makers and roadway operators have amassed a typography of how most crashes occur, but now the goal is to somehow intervene in the sequence of events that cause those crashes – either by providing additional information that increases a driver’s situational awareness or by leveraging the control mechanisms of the vehicle itself.

“To do that, however, we have to have very profound understanding of the human-machine interface and the machine interface with electronic communication systems,” Lange says. “That’s the kind of work that can be done here.”

Though modest when compared with the multi-billion-dollar research and development budgets of the global corporations it will serve, the $6.6 million CVPC stands as a priceless bit of good news for a state reeling from bankrupt suppliers and disappointing losses at local titans General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC.

Steve Underwood, director of the CVPC and CAR’s transportation and information planning group, says the center cements Michigan’s leadership role in advanced vehicle-safety technology.

“Michigan will continue to be the leader in this area for years to come,” Underwood claims.

David Cole, chairman of CAR, agrees. He calls the CVPC proof that despite recent financial troubles at the Detroit Three; full-fledged bankruptcies at key suppliers such as Delphi Corp., Dana Corp. and Tower Automotive Inc.; and a general trend among technical graduates to avoid careers in manufacturing, the region still ranks No.1 in terms of automotive innovation.

“It is the intellectual center of the automotive universe,” says Cole. “When you look at the commitments with the Big Three here, but also Toyota (Motor Corp.), Hyundai (Motor Co. Ltd.), Nissan (Motor Co. Ltd. and) huge growth in R&D centers for suppliers, it really is the intellectual center.”

Toyota has kept a technical and design center not far from the CAR’s campus since 1990. It employs 700 people and a $150 million expansion now under way will add another 400 jobs.

Hyundai-Kia Technical Center America Inc., a venture between South Korean auto makers Hyundai and Kia Motors Corp., also operates nearby. It employs 150 people, although last year it placed expansion plans on hold.

Nissan maintains a technical and design center in the region, too, completing an ambitious expansion just two years ago. And Robert Bosch LLC – the world’s largest parts maker – dedicated its new $37.5 million technical center earlier this summer. The facility eventually will add 150 employees to the 450 workers already on its roster.

Meanwhile, a number of other local companies attend the CVPC dedication to demonstrate proof of their technical prowess.

Continental Automotive Systems USA displays its car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications, which integrates forward-looking radar with a vehicle braking system and passive safety systems such as airbags and seatbelts.

It can warn the driver of an upcoming hazard; the location of an emergency vehicle; or even change stoplights to green, so emergency vehicles can arrive at the scene more quickly. That system is a key focus of the CVPC.

GM demonstrates its vehicle-to-vehicle communication system designed to provide passengers with “360 degrees” of crash protection. The technology features warnings for slowed or stopped vehicles ahead, a forward collision alert that can incorporate vehicle-braking and blind-spot detector.

The system uses audio, visual and seat vibration to warn drivers of impending danger.

NAVTEQ North America LLC and Delphi demonstrate a prototype navigation application the two companies developed as part of a joint venture with Technocom Corp. aimed at downloading large files to the vehicle.

The system sends a motorist’s request for directions to a roadside receiver via shortwave communication, which is relayed to the Internet where a map and turn-by-turn directions are generated. That file is sent back to the vehicle via the roadside receiver.

In the future, the application will factor in current travel time, construction zones and other thingss that may affect the trip, the companies say.

In addition to tech-savvy companies, the region also boasts a close relationship between the state department of transportation and local engineering community. That has allowed, for example, companies to more easily take advantage of a dedicated vehicle-to-roadway frequency the U.S. government established years ago with the hopes of creating automatic toll collection. No other nation has such a dedicated frequency.

“It’s here to carry all the information for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-highway communication,” Cole says of the frequency. “So we’ve got (this) center with key manufacturers and suppliers, (and) now the tool set is becoming available. Twenty years ago, that wasn’t the case, but now the enablers are here and the will is here.”

jamend@wardsauto.com