Autonomous electric vehicle donation will bolster research opportunities at Western

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—While the technology is autonomous, the donation of an Aurrigo Auto-Pod will put Western Michigan University in the driver's seat for groundbreaking research.

Aurrigo International PLC, a global leader in transport technology, donated the four-seater electric autonomous vehicle to Western's Energy Efficient and Autonomous Vehicle (EEAV) Lab, giving students a proven platform for hands-on education and research opportunities.

"We have been working with Aurrigo since the first Michigan Mobility Challenge in 2018, where two Auto-Pods were piloted on WMU's campus in collaboration with several other companies," says Dr. Zach Asher, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and EEAV Lab director. "With this donation, we are able to expand ongoing efforts at WMU in electric and autonomous vehicle research, education and technology commercialization."

"Autonomous technology is expanding rapidly and, if we are going to fulfill the potential of the industry, we need to build a pipeline of talent," adds David Keene, CEO of Aurrigo International PLC. "This partnership with Western Michigan University is another example of business and academia coming together to explore new solutions, and we are delighted (this) Auto-Pod will bring real-world technology to the fingertips of students."

The new research opportunities will position Western students to be at the forefront of emerging technologies and set them up for success in the sustainable energy field.

"It will hopefully accelerate their journeys into the sector as well as embedding our brand and our technology into their way of thinking going forward," Keene says.

Positioned for Success

Western’s EEAV Lab actively pursues a realization of sustainable and safe automotive transportation through research and development. Under the direction of Asher, the laboratory has current partnerships with industry, government, national laboratories and other universities to develop and commercialize key technologies in this space, including autonomous vehicle infrastructure, perception in adverse weather, resilience engineering and energy-efficient operational techniques.          

With the limited talent pool in the autonomous and electric vehicle space—collectively known as mobility—and the rapid speed at which technology changes, partnerships such as this enable a faster incorporation of key skills in student education and training. Western has existing interdisciplinary courses for undergraduate and graduate students in electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle engineering to prepare graduates to enter the mobility workforce.

“Western’s commitment to advancing transportation sustainability and safety is demonstrated by our continued research and development in mobility, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, and the faculty’s efforts to enhance curricular offerings,” says Dr. Steve Butt, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Our goal is to be a leader in research, education and commercialization of these advances.”

“We believe that public and private partnerships like this will drive wide-scale adoption of autonomous technology,” adds Tenille Houston, vice president of strategy and operations for Aurrigo North America. “Enabling students to get hands-on experience with our tried and tested platform will deliver a stronger starting point from which to build and grow.”

The Auto-Pod was on display at the ITS World Congress in Los Angeless in September before making the 2,150-mile road trip to Western's campus. Driven by a desire to build a talent pool and increase awareness of this growing industry, Aurrigo International plc has also provided vehicles for Coventry Transport Museum in the UK and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

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