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Hyundai, University tackle research challenge

Prize of up to $45,000 to be split among multiple winners of smart mobility competition

On Sept. 10, the submissions portal for the Hyundai Visionary Challenge opened exclusively to University students, alums and teaching faculty members. The competition centers around three main themes: biology-inspired mobility, digital phenotyping and human-machine partnerships, according to the HVC website. A prize of up to $45,000 will be split between at least three winning teams, and the winners will be offered the opportunity to secure up to $200,000 in additional research funding. Successful teams will also be invited to speak at a global conference on smart mobility in Silicon Valley.

This is the first time Hyundai Motor Company has brought the competition to the University. There is a mutually beneficial relationship between companies like Hyundai and the University, said Daniel Behr, executive director of the Office of Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing. “Companies have needs for innovation and the University is always looking for new sources for research funding.” While most research funding comes from federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, companies have market-driven needs that require university-level research, he added.

“Hyundai and Brown have a natural affinity,” said Tracey Dodenhoff, business development consultant of the Office of Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing. Youngcho Chi ’82 ScM’87 PhD’90 P’13’16, executive vice president of Hyundai Motor Group, helped initialize the relationship between Hyundai and the University, Dodenhoff said.

Both Dodenhoff and Behr stress that this competition is not about just cars but rather about smart mobility, hoping to attract proposals that expand beyond automobiles.

The three broad themes of the competition span diverse research interests. Taking inspiration from nature is the main goal of biologically-inspired mobility, Dodenhoff said. She cited the University’s ongoing study of bat flight as an example of research that looks into both the physics of flying and the bat’s sensory abilities. “There are rich opportunities to translate wisdom found in nature into solutions that can help us as human beings.”

Digital phenotyping focuses on the interaction between transportation machines and humans. “If you think about a future where humans are being transported by autonomous machines, you can think about ways for those machines to interact and maybe help the human,” Behr said. For instance, the machine could sense if the human it is transporting is not feeling well or is exhibiting unfamiliar patterns, he added.

The human-machine partnership emphasizes the way scientists can leverage technology to make tasks “better, safer, more pleasant and more reliable,” Dodenhoff said.

Judges of the competition will hail from both the University and Hyundai, said Betsy Stubblefield Loucks, communications and business development associate of the Office of Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing. “The judges are going to be looking for ideas that are really pushing the cutting edge of smart mobility and sustainability.” These innovative ideas are not necessarily ready for market right now but could ideally be put on the market in five years, she added.

Teams have already begun entering the challenge. David Whitney GS is entering the competition with his team and hopes to focus on the human-machine partnership theme of the challenge. “What particularly interests me (about this competition) is the ability to see how research translates into production, … how it leaves the lab and enters a real company or factory like Hyundai,” he said.

According to the HVC website, eligible teams must have a maximum of five University-affiliated members, at least one of whom must be an undergraduate or graduate researcher. The submission portal closes Oct. 15 and winners will be announced in November.


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