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The University of Michigan on Wednesday won a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and will partner with two laboratories to study whether driverless vehicles could help people drive more efficiently.

UM’s Mobility Transformation Center, UM Transportation Research Institute and College of Engineering will partner with Argonne National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory in the research. Connected and autonomous vehicles are an area of focus for the Department of Energy.

“Nobody knows the magnitude of what the energy savings of connected and automated vehicles will be,” said MTC Director Peter Sweatman. “We’re going to actively collect the data to do that.”

The university will recruit 500 volunteers in Ann Arbor to participate in the project. Their personal vehicles will be equipped to collect energy consumption data, in addition to information about vehicle motion, such as speed and location, as the volunteers go about their daily routines.

The university said some of the vehicles could belong to fleet or commercial users.

The project also will study how drivers react to various functions in connected and automated vehicles, and whether any resulting change in behavior affects energy consumption.

“Reducing emissions and saving fuel are expected to be significant benefits once connected and automated vehicles are on the road in large numbers,” Huei Peng, MTC associate director and a principal investigator on the DOE project, said in a statement. “Unlike the safety impact of these vehicles, however, energy consumption has not been widely studied. This research will help us better understand the potential energy savings and identify possible obstacles to achieving meaningful reductions.”

The majority of vehicles in the study will be hybrid-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles, with only a small number expected to be traditional cars or trucks.

Argonne will contribute modeling and simulation expertise, as well as development of a display module to better understand drivers’ behaviors. The Idaho National Laboratory will consult on the project to provide guidance about data collection and analysis.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters on Wednesday applauded the award.

“Connected vehicles and infrastructure are the next frontier for American cars and drivers, and we must invest in and promote the development of these critical technologies that can improve vehicle performance, prevent accidents and save lives,” Peters said. “This project will help the Mobility Transformation Center better understand how connected vehicles can making driving more efficient, reduce fuel consumption and save drivers money.”

mmartinez@detroitnews.com

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Twitter.com/MikeMartinez_DN

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