New program aims to drive study of the automobile

To Miles Collier, the automobile is far more than a means of transportation. “The automobile is quite simply the single most important technological device of the 20th century, and, arguably, will remain hugely influential in the 21st,” says Collier.

Collier, a well-known business executive, philanthropist and artist, has long been dedicated to preserving and advancing automotive history. To that end, he founded the Revs Institute for Automotive Research in Naples, Fla., a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational institution, archive and library about the automobile.

However, Collier noticed a lack of academic focus on the subject. “I have always been puzzled why the academy has ignored the automobile, as it is such an obviously central factor in our modern life and culture,” he says.

While there were some existing opportunities to study the automobile, “nowhere was there a cross-disciplinary approach taken toward the automobile in its broadest sense: the interaction between humankind and the automobile, past, present and future,” says Collier.

To fill that void, Collier provided a founding gift to Stanford University to establish the Revs Program at Stanford. The program’s primary purpose is to provide students and faculty the opportunity to study the automobile from a variety of disciplines. “[T]he study of the automobile is capable of supporting competencies in many diverse fields, from economics to art history, from psychology to literature, from engineering to archaeology,” says Collier.

In the Revs Program at Stanford, a literature course might examine the automobile’s use as a symbol and metaphor, while a history class might study the automobile’s role in advancing the development of society. Students of the program won’t earn an automotive degree, but rather will apply Revs coursework to degrees in other fields.

Revs students will be prepared for “a vast array of careers,” says Collier, including positions in the automotive industry and industries that support the automotive infrastructure as well as the wide range of industries that are influenced by the rapidly changing automobile policy. In addition to undergraduate classes, the Revs Program at Stanford will support research involving undergraduates, graduate students, and post-doctoral and faculty scholars. 

A second aim of the program is to create an online archive of historical and technical automotive materials for research purposes. The Stanford University Library system has partnered with Collier’s Revs Institute, which holds one of the world’s most complete collections of automotive assets, including an extensive library. The Revs Institute and Stanford Libraries will jointly develop a website designed to be “the premier source for learning about the automobile in a human context,” says Collier, in the hopes of eventually creating a “digital automobile museum.”

One feature under consideration is a “digital donation,” where owners of some of the world’s most coveted automobiles would provide information on these cars for inclusion on the website. “I would imagine having a detailed digital representation of the car that would allow visitors to view the car from all angles as well as to explore X-ray views of the car showing its operating components in detail,” says Collier. The Revs Program is pioneering the use of a wide range of sensors to create a complete picture of the automobile as well as the driver. By collecting this information, the site also may provide visitors the opportunity to take each car for a virtual spin.

With its combination of resources, Collier sees the Revs Program at Stanford as not only an investment in automotive learning and research, but as a driving force behind an all-new discipline.

If you have questions about the Revs Program at Stanford, or would like to join the program’s mailing list, e-mail or call 650-736-4322.

For more information on the Revs Institute for Automotive Research in Naples, visit or call 239-643-5783. 

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