Cornell partners with Italian universities, automakers on ‘vehicle intelligence’

Cornell has teamed with the University of Bologna to establish the Cornell-Bologna Center for Vehicle Intelligence, a partnership that merges world-class research with some of the world’s most powerful and elegant automobiles.

Representatives from both universities gathered at the Cornell Club in New York City April 28 to sign a memorandum of agreement for the center.

The partnership connects Cornell to the Motorvehicle University of Emilia-Romagna (MUNER), a shared initiative launched in 2017 to support education and research collaborations between Italian universities and luxury automakers such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati.

The center and the MUNER connection will enable joint research projects and exchange programs for Cornell faculty and students in the automotive areas of engineering, data science and societal impact, according to Silvia Ferrari, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and center co-director.

“We hope to have some of the MUNER students conduct research projects for their theses at Cornell, and some of those projects might be interesting to industry. And vice versa, we can have initiatives where some of our faculty can propose projects to industry,” said Ferrari, who has conducted research with the car company of the same name.

She noted Cornell’s research strengths in disciplines essential to the automobile industry such as human-machine interface, materials science and fluid dynamics. The new center will also collaborate with Cornell’s Center for Transportation, Environment and Community Health.

Francesco Ubertini, center co-director and rector at the University of Bologna, was one of the driving forces behind the formation of MUNER and said the addition of Cornell brings a distinguished international presence to the initiative.

“We have some ongoing research collaborations with Cornell, but this is a step forward to a stronger partnership,” Ubertini said, “and I’m very satisfied because Cornell is a top-level, high-quality university. This center will be a great opportunity for all students and professors involved.”

One group that will likely be drawn to the center is Cornell’s student-run Formula SAE team, which designs, manufactures and races formula-style cars. MUNER’s academic offerings include concentrations in high-performance car design and advanced sportscar manufacturing.

Enrico Sangiorgi, pro-rector for education and professor of electrical, electronic and information engineering at the University of Bologna, said MUNER’s partnership with automakers presents an exciting opportunity for students.

“It is a very good way to nurture the passion in the students, and for them, a big factor in their future success is that passion,” said Sangiorgi, who has overseen the development of MUNER’s education programs and curriculum.

Research and education in the Center for Vehicle Intelligence will focus on advanced automotive engineering, including applications for neural-network computing and artificial intelligence; virtual reality and graphics for computer-aided design, marketing and user experience; autonomous driving technologies for vehicle safety, liability and driver experience; assisted mobility for impaired individuals in complex urban settings; and transportation and civil infrastructure, including the role vehicle intelligence and automation play in sustainability.

At the Cornell Club, Ferrari and Wendy Ju, assistant professor of information science at Cornell Tech, showcased some of their automobile-related research as examples of the types of projects the center would fund.

In one project, Ferrari worked with a researcher from the automaker Ferrari to develop an interface that can sense a driver’s emotions. The goal was to use computer vision techniques in a system that can adapt the response of a car to the emotional state of its driver. Ferrari said the data was also used to develop simulators that test new designs and control systems without relying on test drivers.

“The professional test drivers each have their own personal style of driving and their time is also very expensive,” said Ferrari. “If engineers are working on a design and want to test it right away, they can’t because they don’t have the test driver. But we can train neural networks to produce the style and behavior of those drivers under different road conditions.”

Ju, who runs the Future Automation Research Laboratory at Cornell Tech, has used virtual reality and other techniques to simulate on-road autonomous driving and study the behavior of passengers. She has also developed a system to remotely observe drivers and collect real-time feedback.

“Even in a commercial product, the control engineers don’t know what the user experience is with that car,” said Ju. “You can ask them after the drive, but you can’t actually ask them about every single moment there’s a transition, so this is a tool that lets people feel like they’re in a car alone, but you can still ask them how things are going.”

Many of the center’s research and education programs are still being formalized. Ferrari expects research collaborations to begin later in 2018 while opportunities to enroll in academic programs will begin in the 2018-19 academic year.

Syl Kacapyr is public relations and content manager for the College of Engineering.

Media Contact

Lindsey Knewstub