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Ohio State gives seed funding to spur transportation innovations

Transportation is changing. Cars can run on electricity, and tell us whether we are too distracted while we drive. Buses offer free wi-fi. Ride-sharing is ubiquitous. Bike-commuting is in vogue.

Decades from now, the way people move through their daily lives will likely look even more different—and a new program in the partnership between The Ohio State University and Honda R&D Americas is working to nurture the kinds of innovative ideas that will, hopefully, make transportation easier, safer and more environmentally friendly.

Ohio State’s Office of Research hosted a pitch day recently at the newly opened 99P Innovation Laboratory on Kinnear Road and heard ideas to improve transportation from research groups from across the university.

“We’re really at an inflection point where things in the world of mobility are changing pretty rapidly,” said Alissa Comella, the university’s co-director of the Honda-Ohio State partnership. “We have the opportunity, by partnering with Honda, to really have a unique vantage point on taking commercial thinking and academic thinking and bringing them together to look at what the future could be.”

A panel of engineers, scientists and others from both Honda and Ohio State evaluated those pitches and offered seed funding to five projects. The proposals varied from creating better, more sustainable, high-energy lithium batteries, to building a “smart” roadway that can tell drivers, pedestrians and cyclists what’s happening outside their line of sight, to social-work outreach that could improve the ways senior citizens access public transportation.

The seed funding—$25,000 to each project—will allow teams to begin research and have development updates for the 99P Lab’s official unveiling this fall.

The research groups that received funding include:Photo of Jung-Hyun KimJung-Hyun Kim

  • A team led by Jung Hyun Kim, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State, will work on building thicker electrode technology to develop a higher-energy lithium-ion battery to power electrical vehicles. The goal, the researchers said, is to make lithium-ion batteries cheaper and more efficient, allowing more vehicles in the future to move away from being powered by petroleum products that contribute to climate change.
  • A team led by Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, associate professor of social work, will focus on improving access to public transportation and other transportation options for people 65 and older.
  • A team led by Anish Arora, professor of computer science and engineering, will examine ways to build sensors into roadways, bikeways and walkways that can notify drivers, cyclists and pedestrians about other travelers and objects outside their lines of sight. “If roads could talk, what would they do to help us stay safe?” Anora said at the pitch day.
  • A team led by Shawn Midlam-Mohler, associate professor of practice in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, plans to build a better way to evaluate the user experience in autonomous vehicles.
  • A team led by Robert Lee, professor of electrical and computer engineering, intends to build a “smart” steering wheel that can support distracted-driver detection by sensing a driver’s hands not just on—but near—the steering wheel.

Photo of Shawn Midlam-MohlerShawn Midlam-Mohler“99P creates a place for our researchers to stretch their ideas, and to try something they might not have tried before, to improve mobility for decades to come,” said Morley Stone, Ohio State’s senior vice president for research, “and they benefit from the real-world expertise of Honda’s research and development team. It’s a win-win.”

Mike Wiseman, senior director of research at Honda R&D Americas, said this expansion of the partnership is a win-win for Honda, too.

“We’ve been investing in student-driven innovation for decades, but we haven’t always had Ohio State principal investigators and other faculty and staff engaged at an essential level,” Wiseman said. “The goal was really to give research leaders a new space for their teams to bring their research to life as working products.”

And the partnership could help Honda move into the future with fresh ideas.

“Honda is more than an automaker. We’re a mobility company that’s proud of the fact that we extend beyond automobiles and motorcycles—into robotics and other areas,” said Jonathan Dayka, a Honda spokesman. “We really wanted this collaboration to continue to increase our concept of mobility, not just our development capability.”

The 99P Lab’s “grand opening” will be held this fall.

by Laura Arenschield, Ohio State News