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University pushes for driverless-car institute

BY AARON WALKER | SEPTEMBER 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa is waiting for approval from the state Board of Regents today regarding the creation of a driverless-car institute.

The consideration is included in the state’s fiscal 2016 budget.

UI officials seek approval for the potential not-for-profit research program. They have asked for $1 million a year in federal funding over three years.

David Conrad, the UI assistant vice president for Research and Economic Development, is spearheading the campaign.

“It’s a chance for the university to work with experts and make Iowa a leader,” Conrad said. “[That] depends on our ability to set that up.”

 The university believes it can be an innovative leader in the field for the state of Iowa. Conrad compared it to the state’s development of wind energy.

Connections to such programs as UI’s driving simulator have also been used as encouragement for the initiative. The driving simulator recently raised more than $500 million in external funding for this fiscal year.

“It will be led more by the private sector than by the university,” Conrad said. “We would have to contribute money from the university and see if private investors will as well.”

The institute would be located in UI’s research park, which is in Coralville.

Mark Nolte, the president of the Iowa City Area Development Group, said he believes it is the right time to enter the field of study.

“It’s important to do now because the first to the technology gets the most economic development and job creation,” he said.

Nolte said he hopes the regents will support the initiative to continue to grow the relationship with the university and benefit the city.

“We hope to be a good partner to the university,” Nolte said. “We hope to continue to work hand and hand on advancing this sector locally.”

Additionally, the UI will recruit students in all disciplines to contribute to the program. This would include engineering, IT, design and humanities students.

The regents will discuss the funding today.

“With an affirmative board vote, we will show we support innovation and research on technology,” said Regent President Bruce Rastetter.

He said it would put the UI in a good position.

“It makes sense for the university from a technology research standpoint,” Rastetter said. “Clearly, there will be driverless cars, and the university is in a good position to help with that.”

The institute would not be limited to only researching cars.

“It wouldn’t really be focused on self-driving cars but all kinds of autonomous vehicles,” Conrad said. “Anything operated not by people but by software.”


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