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.
Learning, research and education occur at multiple locations between WCC, the University of Michigan, UMTRI and more. At WCC itself, technician students are able to learn and work on current model year vehicles equipped with the technology. Students, faculty and staff volunteer for the project, having equipment placed in their vehicles’ trunks that students and faculty in both automotive and computer programming programs monitor. This intra-school partnership also allows students to take additional courses that will benefit them later.
“Mcity is testing this in in the highest areas of the highest development to really understand road conditions, buildings, proximity of curbs and roads, traffic signals, communication of the status of those objects to the vehicle by informing the driver of what is coming up next. This data information is allowing Mcity, UMTRI and our programming people to understand how software programming will occur in those vehicle systems,” says Lecz.
Students in these advanced programs are coming out of the classroom with cutting-edge, hands-on training that puts them on track to be A-level techs in many areas where the aftermarket is heading. The current automotive program will begin integrating key connected vehicle technologies as appropriate to provide students with an understanding of the inter-relationships between the many subsystems in the vehicle. This will apply to Connected Vehicle component functional characteristics and operation, diagnosis of inputs and outputs, and impact on the entire vehicle performance, according to Lecz.
“Our Automotive Service Technologies faculty have been identifying new technician skills emerging in the field, and holding Automotive Industry Advisory meetings with dealerships and vehicle manufacturers to learn of their service workplace skill needs. In addition, on the infrastructure side of the system, the Workforce Development area has been defining the skills and competencies required to meet emerging Intelligent Transportation Worker occupational requirements. All of this is still work in-process,” Lecz notes. “At the appropriate time, training will be created and released to up-skill technicians in the field. Because the technical content is rapidly developing, it is expected field automotive technicians will need to continuously upgrade their skills and knowledge of these systems.
“Moreover, each vehicle manufacturer’s systems are different enough that a technician must learn each manufacturer’s unique codes and functions in order to effectively diagnose these vehicle systems when there is a performance concern,” he continues. “We expect this will demand a more disciplined and continuous technical development plan for each technician working in the field.”
Local businesses recognize the potential these students offer their businesses and the automotive industry as a whole, with many dealership and shops offering professional development services and time to advisory committees at WCC.
“The benefits for area shop owners and technicians include the ability to provide the proper diagnosis and repair to assure a satisfied customer,” said Mike Duff, Professional Faculty Member, Automotive Service Technologies. “The program will also assure that the ongoing personnel training and specialized equipment necessary to diagnose highly technical and ever evolving vehicles is on a continuum, not a one-time training. The profitability of trained technicians, working on the proper equipment, equates to higher profit margins for shop owners.”
WCC’s Advanced Transportation Center as well as Mcity are providing the technicians the leading education on these new systems, but in the end, playing a vital role in the future of transportation. As Lecz explains, the learning goes beyond the research and will have long-lasting results in society not just in the service bays but on the road.
“Messages sent to the vehicle might tell it to maintain its speed to get through the light on green, for example. It’s a waste to society to sit at a light and idle,” he notes. “That’s part of the equation and system. These intelligent systems are all recognizing how this interplay is going to work.”
And these students and faculty all are on the leading edge of this new wave of vehicles, technology and service.