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University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships
University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships

MTRAC awards $1M to support mobility, transportation research projects


ANN ARBOR—The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Advanced Transportation Innovation Hub at the University of Michigan recently awarded nearly $1 million to support eight multidisciplinary research projects with high commercial potential.

U-M researchers from the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses, along with faculty from Western Michigan University, will receive a one-year grant from MTRAC to advance their research projects, which range in scope from vehicle drag reduction to power converter software. In addition to funding, teams also will receive commercialization resources and support, including connections to industry partners, coaching and mentoring from the MTRAC Team, and access to an industry and venture capital advisory board.

The MTRAC Advanced Transportation Innovation Hub, administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation with funding from the Michigan Strategic Fund, is co-managed by Innovation Partnerships and Michigan Engineering. The program aims to support translational research projects that have high commercialization potential, with the ultimate goal of launching new technologies into the mobility and transportation sectors. Innovators from all public universities across the state, hospital systems and nonprofit research centers are eligible to submit funding proposals.

“Since its inception in 2014, the MTRAC Advanced Transportation Innovation Hub has awarded more than $6.5 million to accelerate 66 truly innovative research projects,” said Kelly Sexton, associate vice president for research and innovation partnerships. 

“The success of the program is demonstrated by the fact that these projects have since led to 27 startups, which have attracted more than $96 million in follow-on funding. To see such growth is extraordinary and demonstrates the impact that this program is having on advancing the transportation innovation ecosystem across the state of Michigan.”

Finalists pitched their proposals to an oversight committee of experienced technologists, entrepreneurs, industry partners and venture capitalists with a track record of commercializing and investing in frontier technologies. They provided feedback to and will mentor all projects that applied. 

This year’s MTRAC award recipients include:

  • Daniel Cooper, assistant professor of mechanical engineering (U-M) – Reducing Quench Distortion in Metal Extrusion to Accelerate Vehicle Lightweighting
  • L. Jay Guo, professor of electrical engineering and computer science (U-M) – Structural Chrome Color for Automobile Application
  • Chinedum Okwudire, associate professor of mechanical engineering, associate professor of integrative systems and design (U-M) – Intelligent Thermal Compensation for 3D Printing of Metals
  • Wencong Su, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering (UM-Dearborn) – Commercializing Machine Learning Enhanced Automated Circuit Configuration and Evaluation of Power Converters (ML-ACCEPT) Software
  • Shorya Awtar, professor of mechanical engineering (U-M) – Achieving Trust in Autonomy via Preemptive Adjustment of Occupant Posture
  • Pingsha Dong, Robert F Beck Collegiate Professor of Engineering, professor of naval architecture and marine engineering, professor of mechanical engineering and professor of integrative systems and design (U-M) – A Robust Durability Simulation Tool for Spot and Seam Welds for Rapid Virtual Prototyping of Vehicle Structures
  • Joaquim Martins, Pauline M Sherman Collegiate Professor of Aerospace Engineering and professor of naval architecture and marine engineering (U-M) – Shape Optimization Software for Transportation Vehicle Drag Reduction
  • Lina Sawalha (WMU) – Commercialization of the Hybrid 3D Metal Printer Software

“Two things Michigan is known for are automobiles and engineering,” said Brad Orr, associate vice president for research-natural sciences and engineering. 

“To see such innovative projects for not just automobiles, but transportation and mobility more broadly, is incredible. And to see these types of revolutionary ideas come from Michigan is very promising for our state as we look to the future.”

Starting with the application stage through funding, projects benefit from access to experienced mentors-in-residence, commercialization education programming and guidance from an extended network of expertise. 

“For almost a decade, the MTRAC Advanced Transportation Innovation Hub has funded projects in the transportation and mobility space that have high potential for positive, societal impact,” said MEDC University Technology Program Director Larry Herriman. 

“The funding, in combination with the resources and mentorship made available, have resulted in these projects thriving via licensing, job creation and follow-on funding. This program continues to be a success by not only enhancing people’s lives through transportation, but in the positive impact on Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Additional information on partner MTRAC programs:

Co-funded through the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF), which is administered by the MEDC and through university cost-sharing, the MTRAC Advanced Transportation Innovation Hub at U-M is part of a network of statewide innovation hubs that includes the MTRAC Innovation Hub for Life Sciences at U-M, the MTRAC Innovation Hub for AgBio at Michigan State University, the MTRAC Innovation Hub for Advanced Materials at Michigan Technological University and the MTRAC Innovation Hub for Advanced Computing at Wayne State University. Each hub is strategically located at a university with significant strengths in the sector, further increasing the quality and quantity of resources available. Since the inception of the statewide program in 2016 through July 2023, MTRAC Innovation Hubs have received 669 proposals, funded 339 projects, developed 74 startup companies, licensed 33 technologies to industry partners and secured more than $336 million in follow-on funding.

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

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Contact: Alexi Pierce, Innovation Partnerships