Florida Polytechnic University is achieving international attention for its Advanced Mobility Institute (AMI), signing a partnership with the only technological university in the Northern European country of Estonia.

And that’s leading to greater momentum for the research and application of autonomous vehicle technology in Polk County and Central Florida.

“Florida Poly is a public state university startup. As its reputation has grown within the state, the university can increasingly attract the best students throughout the state of Florida,” said Dr. Rahul Razdan, senior director for special projects at Florida Poly. “The next stage in Florida Poly’s development is to build world-class research centers such as AMI. As AMI grows, it naturally garners international attention. For Florida Poly, Polk County, Central Florida and the state of Florida, AMI brings mind-share in a whole host of venues.”

Florida Poly and Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) signed a memorandum of agreement in Washington, D.C., to collaborate on ways to develop AV technology for public transportation. AMI already has an agreement with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to enhance the development of AV technology in that arena.

“We’re thrilled to work together with both TalTech and JTA,” said Florida Poly President Dr. Randy Avent. “The Advanced Mobility Institute enables Florida Poly to collaborate with state entities as well as with international teams who share the goal of making autonomous vehicles a daily reality.”

Avent and Razdan agree that such partnerships with AMI are necessary to ensure the cutting-edge research being done at Florida Poly, and the resulting technology, is implemented.

“TalTech has demonstrated prototype AV shuttles and has a desire to extend into increasingly real-world applications,” Razdan said. “At the Advanced Mobility Institute, we aim at showing robustness of this technology, so this connection is highly synergistic.”

The AMI is a university-affiliated research center — the only one in Florida — focused on AV technology. TalTech and partners created the country’s first driverless car, ISEAUTO. Now, its research group must figure out how to use the car in real-world situations, like traffic. That’s where it will work with AMI, which has researched and verified testing for such. As Razdan put it: “We are looking for an ‘open’ vehicle on which we can experiment.”

“AMI research brought TalTech to the table,” Razdan said.

When Florida Poly and TalTech applied for a research grant from the European Union, grant decision-makers asked questions such as: Why Florida Poly over the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Why Central Florida vs. Silicon Valley? “AMI/TalTech won this grant against more than 20 competitive proposals. Now, the EU has funded the senior researcher at TalTech for a six-month stay with Florida Poly to learn about AMI research. The result of these interactions is increased visibility in a whole host of venues, ranging from the European Union to the city of Washington, D.C.”

Now, Razdan said, Florida Poly and the United States also have “insight into the EU’s thoughts on this topic.”

As the Florida Turnpike Enterprise prepares to open SunTrax, about a mile from Florida Poly off the Polk Parkway, new experiences await. At completion, SunTrax will be a $140M million test track. The first phase — a 2.25-mile track to test toll technology, among other things, and two buildings — is expected to open in the near future. The 200-acre infield will follow within a couple of years.

“For AMI and Florida Poly, building a world-class capability is critical in a number of dimensions,” Razdan said. “AMI is at the center of enabling the AV revolution through the development of safety protocols. The impact of this research reaches worldwide. Florida can specifically benefit in its home industries around logistics, agriculture, planned communities, marine, and more. Suntrax is a natural partner for AMI in this journey.”

For now, excitement is building on all fronts. Razdan said partnerships with other foreign entities are in the works and could be announced in the next few months. “Overall, I think this moves the ball forward, especially in terms of Florida Poly/AMI being able to help Florida’s public transportation folks,” he said.

The feeling is the same overseas.

“TalTech is excited to collaborate with Florida Polytechnic University to accelerate the benefits of AV technology in Europe,” said Raivo Sell, senior researcher at TalTech. “The Advanced Mobility Institute is the perfect partner for us due to its strong team of experts focused in AV research and testing.”