Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced a partnership with the state and the University of Michigan to boost autonomous and connected vehicles.
Snyder made the announcement at the North American International Auto Show, just weeks after signing legislation making Michigan the fourth state to approve the testing of driverless cars on state roads.
“Michigan’s automotive future is as important as its historic past, and it is just as bright,” Snyder said. “By working together with great partners in education and the auto industry, we are strengthening our lead as the world headquarters for auto manufacturing and research and development.”
On Tuesday, Snyder announced the partnership with the University of Michigan’s new Mobility Transformation Center.
The MTC is a partnership of government, industry, and universities that will “lay the technical, social, cultural and regulatory groundwork to accelerate the development of a commercially viable ‘ecosystem’ of connected and automated vehicles. A key goal of this initiative is to demonstrate an on-road mobility system of connected and automated vehicles and infrastructure in southeast Michigan, rapidly and effectively,” Snyder’s office said.
Over the past two years, autonomous vehicles have sparked the public’s imagination. Search-engine giant Google Inc. has logged more than 500,000 miles on its fleet of self-driving research vehicles. Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz unit announced a driverless test car went more than 60 miles and Nissan Motor Co. vows to get autonomous vehicles ready for sale by 2020.
The University of Michigan says that by 2021, Ann Arbor could become the first U.S. city with a shared fleet of networked, driverless vehicles. That’s the goal of the Mobility Transformation Center, a cross-campus U-M initiative that also involves government and industry representatives. Ann Arbor has been home to a 15-month study of 3,000 vehicles that are linked to one another in a test of technology to see if connected cars can help each other avoid crashes.
“There have been a host of advances in driverless vehicles, multi-modal transportation, shared vehicles, traffic performance management, as well as new propulsion systems,” said Peter Sweatman, director of the MTC. “At the MTC, we will bring together the expertise and resources to envision and to demonstrate how these advances can be shaped into a working system.”
As part of the MTC initiative, the school is working with MDOT on the design of a simulated urban environment for testing connected and automated vehicles. Located on 32 acres on the university’s North Campus Research Complex, “the test environment will include roads, intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, benches, simulated buildings, street lights, and obstacles such as construction barriers. Current plans call for the facility to be completed by the fall of 2014, Snyder’s office said.
Under Michigan rules, a driver is be required to be in the driver’s seat at all times during testing to take over in the case of emergency. “Upfitters” of automated vehicles, such as Google, are permitted to test vehicles along with manufacturers. Test cars will carry an “M” license plate to identify them. At a congressional hearing in November, a senior General Motors Co. official and a top researcher told a U.S. House of Representatives panel that self-driving cars will not be available “for the foreseeable future,” but Nissan Motor Co. is sticking to its timetable of offering autonomous vehicles by 2020. Mike Robinson, vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs at GM, said that drivers will have to stay involved for some time.
The National Highway Traffic Safety administrator is looking at whether to begin the regulatory process to require vehicle to vehicle communications, which could help pave the way for autonomous driving. The agency plans to make a decision in the coming weeks and on whether to require autonomous features like automatic braking that prevent frontal collisions.
Connected vehicles are networked vehicles that share real-time information such as position, speed, and direction by communicating directly with each other or via wireless networks. It allows drivers to be warned about dangers and traffic management and could lead to automated and driverless vehicles.
Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, told the House panel that autonomous cars could prevent many of the 32,000 or more traffic deaths and 2.2 million injuries annually.
He said that driverless cars would mean states would have to spend less on highway infrastructure like extra-wide lanes, guard rails, rumble strips, wide shoulders, even stop signs. But challenges remain, such as liability, preventing hacking of vehicles, privacy and ensuring enough wireless network space to make the program work.