LANSING, Mich. – When you binge-watch a series on Netflix, drive to the local grocery store or just pour yourself a glass of water, you are using complex systems that have been decades in the making—you are using infrastructure, and it is critical to life as we know it.
Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC)—a combination of Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Wayne State University—worked with Lansing, Mich.-based Public Sector Consultants on this year’s annual sector report about public infrastructure. The report—Foundation for the Future: URC Contributions to Infrastructure Improvement—uses the framework developed by the Governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission to detail the URC’s contributions in research and development, talent development and technology transfer to infrastructure challenges in water, mobility, energy and communications.
Twentieth-century infrastructure investments—which support and impact a person’s daily life—is often taken for granted and have been so ever present that some of the end-products can seem boring. However crumbling bridges, aging water systems and lack of universal high-speed internet are reminders of the importance of up-to-date public infrastructure—and, ultimately, how much it is a part of our everyday lives. Michigan’s three URC institutions are contributing knowledge, talent and research to help develop solutions for a broad range of infrastructure challenges.
“Michigan needs world-class infrastructure for its economy to compete with the rest of the nation and the world,” said Mark Schlissel, president of University of Michigan. “The URC’s work in connected autonomous vehicles and our investments in water, energy and communications are helping Michigan stay at the forefront of innovation and able to compete. With our fellow URC universities, we are advancing infrastructure on a global level.”
Over the past five years (2012-2016), the URC institutions have conducted $1.64 billion in infrastructure-related R&D. This research often spans disciplines, such as investigating solutions to the water-energy nexus or how communications technology can make mobility smarter and safer.
Furthermore, the URC institutions use its campus environments as best practice laboratories to test innovations. Discoveries coming out of these labs have the potential to not only solve some of today’s most vexing infrastructure challenges, but to also improve the productivity, security, health and connectedness of society.
“Our campuses are models—living laboratories—for the future of infrastructure,” said John Engler, interim president of Michigan State University. “We have a track record of making major contributions to infrastructure innovation, such as with the Merit Network, a precursor to the Internet that all three URC institutions helped to create and that today is expanding broadband access across the state. Michigan does face big infrastructure challenges, but with the breadth and depth of expertise found at our institutions, we are positioned to continue to shape how people interact with their built and digital environments, and move Michigan forward.”
URC institutions are developing and testing new technologies and moving these to the marketplace, where they have the potential to make the greatest impact on improving infrastructure. For instance, U-M researchers are working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to develop a stronger, more durable concrete at a reduced cost, while researchers at WSU have developed a methodology to help power producers track, manage, reduce and report their facilities’ emissions. In East Lansing, MSU has entered a commercialization agreement with a Silicon Valley tech company that will use MSU’s clear solar panel technology to work toward eliminating the battery life limitations of mobile devices.
“Infrastructure represents a growing opportunity for tech transfer and commercialization,” said M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University. “Within this broad framework, there is a vast array of amazing discoveries changing how we interact with our environment, our communities and even ourselves. We recognize how impactful our research and discoveries can be for those in the field, and we remain committed to making sure we connect our researchers with the partners who have the knowledge and capacity to guide the research through the next steps.”
These flagship universities are additionally a vital source of talent, awarding half of the state’s degrees and producing a talent base competitive with the top university clusters around the country. In the past five years, the URC universities prepared 34,000 graduates for infrastructure-related jobs, helping supply Michigan’s economy with skilled, competitive, qualified talent to build or rebuild the state’s public infrastructure.
“Our institutions train the next generation of talent, sponsor the current creative minds from academic laboratories to the real-world and partner with the communities to address their unique challenges,” said Britany Affolter-Caine, interim director of the URC. “We turn discoveries into solutions and are proud to support these advancements locally and globally.”
Highlights from the report include:
- Water: In Flint, all three URC institutions are helping residents recover from the city’s water crisis by collaborating to determine how long home water filters can be safely used, researching legionella outbreaks and collecting data on water quality to create a comprehensive registry of those affected.
- Mobility: MSU scientists are developing recognition and tracking tools to detect pedestrians or other vehicles, and advanced artificial intelligence algorithms for mapping and localization to allow autonomous vehicles to better maneuver in a variety of environments.
- Energy: Inspired by the movement of fish through water, researchers at U-M’s Marine Renewable Energy Lab are pioneering the way hydroelectric power is produced by taking advantage of naturally occurring currents.
- Communication: The URC universities study cybersecurity to ensure the integrity, security and availability of digital information. WSU’s Cyber Range Hub’s efforts are particularly noteworthy for its community benefits—the hub provides lab space for cybersecurity training, testing and teaching.
Twentieth century investments in roads, bridges, power grids, clean water, communications and the internet of things are aging, and there are few research clusters like the University Research Corridor capable of innovative research and marketplace implementation to make our infrastructure smarter, safer and more secure.
The full report is available and can be viewed https://urcmich.org/reports/infrastructure.