State of Michigan Signs MOU to Establish Global Semiconductor Center of Excellence in Michigan

By Kathleen Achtenberg, Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a new public-private partnership with semiconductor company KLA, Belgium-based technology innovation hub imec, the University of Michigan, Washtenaw Community College and General Motors that will establish a global semiconductor center of excellence in Michigan. The partnership was announced by KLA CEO Rick Wallace during his keynote at imec’s ITF World event focused on semiconductor advances and tech solutions, taking place this week in Antwerp, Belgium.

“KLA and imec’s decision to establish a new STAR center of excellence in Michigan demonstrates our global leadership as a hub for advanced manufacturing and innovation, especially in the semiconductor industry,” said Governor Whitmer. “I am proud that Michigan was chosen as the location for the STAR research center over several other sites, proving that we have the skilled workforce, growing economy, and strong, business-friendly environment to win projects from one of the world’s most innovative companies. Let’s keep working together to bring advanced manufacturing and critical supply chains home as we create economic opportunity in every region and build a brighter future for Michigan.”

The Semiconductor Talent and Automotive Research (STAR) initiative will focus on developing the talent base and infrastructure necessary to accelerate advanced semiconductor applications for electrification and autonomous mobility and move the automotive industry forward. The plan establishes a center of excellence in Michigan to formalize support for the development of the semiconductor industry workforce as well as the advancement of autonomous automotive solutions and electric vehicle research.

Specifically, the Michigan STAR center intends to focus on:

  • Accelerating fundamental and advanced research for vehicle electrification and autonomous automotive solutions;
  • Developing and translating of innovations in vehicle electrification and autonomous automotive technologies;
  • Collaborating with learning institutions, including K-12 and vocational schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and research universities, to enable a Midwest-based skilled talent pipeline;
  • Training and re-training programs to prepare the current workforce for modern chip manufacturing and assembly roles; and
  • Creating a physical collaboration space, laboratory and training spaces, and incubator funding for related startups.

“KLA is focused on investment in research and development to help address key challenges for automotive semiconductors,” said Rick Wallace, President & CEO of KLA. “In 2019, KLA opened a second headquarters in Ann Arbor, putting us closer to automotive customers and the larger Michigan technology ecosystem. The STAR Michigan initiative accelerates our support for talent development, collaboration, and innovation in the region.”

The recent chip shortage has underscored how critical semiconductors are to today’s cars and trucks.

“The STAR initiative is creating, strengthening and sustaining an essential connection between the semiconductor and auto sectors – and it’s doing so at the right place at the right time,” said Santa J. Ono, President of the University of Michigan. “As the EV transition gains momentum, we must ensure that we can develop and manufacture the advanced microelectronics those vehicles will require. This initiative is a critical complement to several major efforts in both semiconductors and mobility already underway at U-M and we look forward to collaborating with our partners to advance and integrate this work.”

U-M is also home to the world-class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility, which supports advanced semiconductor research, education, and regional economic development. Over the past five years, 95 companies and 150 U-M faculty members have utilized it, as well as researchers from 40 other US universities. MAVERIC, the Michigan Advanced Vision for Education and Research in ICs, is a semiconductor collaborative that is pulling together efforts from across the university to support a secure, resilient and innovative domestic semiconductor sector. And the University of Michigan Electric Vehicle Center, a $130 million state-funded effort, is working to accelerate collaborative EV R&D, develop a highly skilled workforce, and establish advanced campus infrastructure and facilities to support both research and education.

As part of the collaboration, Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor will launch a short-term program over the next year to train semiconductor technicians.

“One of the most important jobs we have as a community college is to listen to industry partners to understand talent needs and then customize programs to quickly train the current and future workforce,” said WCC President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca. “We stand ready to provide the training and education required to deepen our state’s talent pool with well-qualified technicians to support chip production.”

The STAR initiative is designed to connect automotive, semiconductor and innovation research initiatives in Europe (Belgium), the United States (Michigan) and Asia (Japan). Each partner will bring relevant expertise to identify and manage programs aligned to the automotive industry, as well as talent development and recruitment.

“Today’s announcement by KLA and imec underscores the strength of our state’s high-tech ecosystem and will further boost our ability to attract long-term investments from semiconductor companies from around the world,” said Quentin Messer, Jr., CEO of the MEDC and President and Chair of the Michigan Strategic Fund. “We are proud to have earned this vote of confidence from KLA and imec and are grateful to them for choosing Michigan. We’re pleased to join our partners in collaborating on this project, which will help solidify Michigan’s culture of innovation and lead to real advancements in reshoring the semiconductor industry and the future of mobility and vehicle electrification.”

In addition to KLA and imec, the Michigan STAR COE intends to collaborate with General Motors, the University of Michigan, Washtenaw Community College and MEDC, with additional organizations expected to join as the program matures.

The announcement by KLA and imec to establish this semiconductor center of excellence in Michigan is the latest example of the semiconductor industry’s continued growth in the state. The news builds on the March announcement by California-based indie Semiconductor that it is investing $12.5 million and creating up to 180 high-wage jobs in Auburn Hills, where it plans to expand its office to include a best-in-class semiconductor design and testing facility. Michigan’s demonstrated leadership in advanced manufacturing within the semiconductor field is also evident in companies such as Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation, the largest producer of polysilicon in the U.S. Hemlock was chosen as the site of Governor Whitmer’s CHIPS Act executive directive signing thanks to its key role in Michigan’s growing semiconductor industry. Additionally, SK Siltron CSS’s new manufacturing facility in Bay Citystrengthens Michigan’s semiconductor sector leadership.

In September 2022, Hemlock announced plans to invest $375 million and create 170 jobs at its facilities in Thomas Township, further ensuring Hemlock’s long-term commitment to continue to produce the essential polysilicon for the semiconductor and solar industries in Michigan.

In an effort to make Michigan a top state for semiconductor talent solutions and growth, Gov. Whitmer and MEDC in late 2022 launched the new Semiconductor Talent Action Team. The Talent Action Team will work across the public sector, industry partners, and training institutions to identify a clear set of semiconductor-specific curricula and R&D investments, placing Michigan in a strong position to attract long-term, sustainable investments from semiconductor companies around the world.

This builds on the Semiconductor Career and Apprenticeship Network, or SCAN Program, that will create pathways and opportunities for job seekers and tools and systems for semiconductor companies to attract, develop and retain a diverse, innovative and skilled workforce. Announced in May 2022, Michigan was one of only three states at the time to launch this planning work to define curricula to support both workers and employers in the global semiconductor industry.

With a rich history in manufacturing and innovation, Michigan is poised to be a guiding hand as the world’s needs for semiconductor technology continue to evolve in the 21st century. As the global epicenter of the automotive industry and home to one-fifth of U.S. auto production, Michigan is equipped to support the increasing global demand for semiconductor technology.  

Torc Robotics, C.R. England Team on Autonomous Pilot

By Kelron Greenhalgh, Transport Topics

Torc Robotics and C.R. England are teaming up on a pilot program that leverages the refrigerated carrier’s temperature-controlled loads and the self-driving-vehicle technology company’s Level 4 autonomous trucks, they said in a May 9 statement.

This will be one of many collaborations, Torc CEO Peter Vaughan Schmidt told Transport Topics on May 12. Torc, independent subsidiary of Daimler Truck AG, wants to ensure it has insight into all the relevant subsegments of trucking. Autonomous vehicles can provide a lot of value to Torc’s customers and society as a whole, Schmidt said.

The program is Torc’s second announced U.S. carrier pilot. Initial planning for the C.R. England partnership will begin in the middle of the year, with on-road tests soon after, Torc said.

Joanna Buttler, head of the autonomous technology group at Daimler Truck, said in the statement that the arrangement will bring the parent company of Freightliner and Western Star closer to its goal of commercializing and implementing autonomous trucking within the decade.

“By adding autonomous lanes to our network, we can expand our customer offerings and create more structured jobs for drivers at both ends of autonomous runs,” C.R, England CEO Chad England said. “Torc’s deep integration with Daimler Truck makes our two organizations a perfect fit for piloting this new technology,” C.R. England’s refrigerated operations represent an important trucking segment, Schmidt said, adding that the opportunities for using self-driving vehicles in the sector were substantial, particularly in terms of hours of service.

The partnership will help Torc learn a lot about C.R. England’s processes, Schmidt said. Torc needs to understand what goes on with refrigerated trucks, including the loading of the trailer, and must move on from using concrete blocks as the load, he said.

C.R. England’s commitment to safety offered a great overlap, he said. The I-40 southwest corridor is the starting point for Torc’s first generation product. That highway is ideal for autonomous trucks, with favorable weather conditions and long stretches of road, Schmidt said.

The benefits of autonomous trucks tend to be centered on safety and operating costs, said Jim Lowell, vice president of technology at predictive analytics specialist Uptake. Trucking companies’ overall safety score should improve as a result of the implementation of autonomous trucking, likewise fuel optimization, he said May 12, adding that autonomous vehicles could be more consistent.

The focus on safety cannot be overemphasized, Lowell said, because if an autonomous car crashes, then the manufacturer is liable, whereas if an autonomous truck strikes something, then the original equipment manufacturer and the trucking company are liable.

Autonomous trucking is set to provide as much as 20 times more data for operators, Lowell said. Uptake specializes in helping companies optimize their operations through data analysis.

More data is the foundation of expanding artificial intelligence use. Torc recently acquired Canadian developer Algolux for its intellectual property and expertise in computer vision and machine learning.

The self-driving market is expanding fast. Autonomous truck developer Kodiak Robotics unveiled a battery-electric Class 8 truck at the 2023 Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in early May. Other self-driving truck developers combining autonomous driving and electrification include Einride and Nikola Corp.

Kodiak said it plans to incorporate the zero-emission truck into its test fleet next year, joining the automated diesel-powered trucks the company already is operating on U.S. highways. The Peterbilt Model 579EV, designed for shorthaul and drayage applications, has a range of up to 150 miles. The vehicle’s batteries can be recharged in as little as three hours.

Waymo One Doubles Service Area in Phoenix and Continues Growing in San Francisco

By the Waymo Team, Waymo

We’re significantly expanding our Waymo One ride-hailing service area in Metro Phoenix and growing in San Francisco to connect more communities and serve more riders.

In Metro Phoenix, one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., we’re doubling our Waymo One service area and connecting our downtown and East Valley territories. This expansion will include Scottsdale for the first time, cover nearly all of Tempe and give additional access to Chandler and Mesa. Anyone in the area can hail a ride with the Waymo One app, whether they’re Arizona State University students commuting between campuses or pin-seeking golfers on vacation.

With this expansion, we now serve 180 square miles of The Valley — the largest fully autonomous service area in the world. It’s also nearly four times the size of our initial Waymo One service area when we opened the world’s first true fully autonomous ride-hail service to the public in 2020.

To serve our growing Phoenix ridership and such a large metro area, we have opened a second location to access Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport at the new 24th Street PHX SkyTrain® Station. We now offer a convenient airport pickup and drop off location no matter where you’re headed in the metro area. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport served more than 44 million passengers last year, or more than 120,000 per day, a significant commercial opportunity for Waymo’s growing operations.

In San Francisco, we’ll continue onboarding new Waymo One riders and are giving our Trusted Testers access to more of the city, including Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach. Waymo is the only company to offer fully autonomous rides to members of the public across the vast majority of the city — 24 hours a day. We have welcomed thousands of external San Franciscans to Waymo One since we began offering rider-only trips in late 2022 and have tens of thousands more people on our waitlist as we await our final permit to offer a paid service.

“Waymo One remains the only and largest 24/7 fully autonomous ride-hailing service in the world — serving thousands of rides in multiple key markets — and we’re scaling quickly,” said Saswat Panigrahi, Waymo Chief Product Officer. “These latest expansions in Metro Phoenix and San Francisco will help us provide more trips to more riders in more places, and are a big step forward on the road to growing our business.”

Across Waymo One, we are now serving over 10 thousand trips per week to public riders, not including employees. With this latest expansion, we intend for those numbers to accelerate rapidly to 10 times that scale by next summer. More than 150 million people use ride-hail services in the U.S., and with Phoenix and San Francisco as two of the most lucrative and fastest-growing markets, Waymo One is well positioned for continued growth as we commercialize our technology.

Fueling this growth is the continued refinement of the Waymo Driver and operational efficiencies implemented across our fleet. Today’s impressive performance of the Waymo Driver is enabled by tens of billions of miles in simulation, tens of millions of on-road autonomous miles, state-of-the-art machine learning and invaluable feedback from real riders. With this expansion, we’ve released key software updates to increase the reliability of our service, including improved hand gesture detection, more versatile multi-point maneuvers and enhancements to our driving performance in inclement weather like very heavy fog among other things. We also now allow up to four passengers in our vehicles, delivering more flexibility for our riders and improving the everyday usefulness of our service.

“When it comes to transportation options, convenience, safety and efficiency are key for Scottsdale’s 9.7 million annual visitors,” said Stephanie Pressler, director of community and government affairs at Experience Scottsdale. “Experience Scottsdale is excited that our visitors and residents alike will soon have a new option in Waymo as they move throughout Old Town Scottsdale’s shopping, entertainment, historic and arts districts, as well as travel to and from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.”

Over the next few months, we’ll focus our efforts on growing ridership and increasing capacity in San Francisco and Metro Phoenix. We’ll build upon our strong relationships with community groups like Foundation for Senior Living and LightHouse for the Blind, plus exciting partnerships with organizations like the Stern Grove Festival and Arizona Diamondbacks. We’ll also apply our lessons learned in those markets as we grow rider-only testing operations in Los Angeles, our third major ride-hail city.

Join us for a ride when you’re in town by downloading the Waymo One app on the App Store and Google Play.