U-M autonomous vehicle test site to be unveiled Monday

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

There’s a new town in town.

It’s called Mcity, a 32-acre proving ground in Ann Arbor that could help the Great Lakes State better compete with Silicon Valley in developing driverless car technology.

The manufactured town, to be unwrapped Monday to invited politicians, journalists and others, will include about five miles of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, benches, simulated buildings, street lights and obstacles such as construction barriers. Automakers and suppliers can use the test town to test out everything from driverless cars to telematics systems. The site was developed by the University of Michigan and its partners and is operated by the Mobility Transportation Center, a public/private partnership.

“There’s no question in my mind the physical and intellectual infrastructure investment that’s being made by UM and other manufacturers in the area of autonomous vehicles around Ann Arbor will make us highly competitive,” Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said in an interview.

“This is just another example of the university taking action in further of its mission to educate and innovate in a manner that makes Ann Arbor a better community.”

Monday’s event will include demonstrations of technology by partners, but no demonstrations of driverless vehicles are planned. Among those expected to attend are Taylor, UM President Mark Schlissel, MDOT Director Kirk Steudle and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.

About 14 companies — from automakers such as Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Co. to suppliers including Denso and communications companies like Verizon — will test on the site in four-hour increments for which companies must sign up in advance. UM engineering students will be given access the site to work on their own projects or collaborate with the automakers and suppliers.

“The idea really was initiated based upon a need for the connected vehicle research we’ve been doing,” said Jim Sayer, a research scientist at UM’s Transportation Research Institute. “As far as we know, it’s the only site like it (in the state). It’s a significant opportunity to be engaged in autonomous vehicle research.”

Mcity will include nearly every possible scenario a driverless car could encounter: concrete, asphalt, brick and dirt road surfaces; a variety of curves and ramps; roundabouts and tunnels; different lanes and grassy areas.

UM will test low-speed 3-D printed driverless carts that it hopes could eventually be deployed on its North Campus, as part of a driverless transit system. The carts are being printed by Local Motors, a Phoenix-based manufacturer.

Much of the testing done by the automakers could lead to driverless cars, but some will be simpler and involve applications that already are seen on roads today. On Monday, Toyota’s display will feature vulnerable road-test dummies. Automotive supplier Bosch will demonstrate its automatic emergency braking system.

“Automakers cannot overstate the value of technology now in cars; there are more lines of code in an average vehicle than in a jetliner,” said Amit Jan, director, strategy IoT verticals for Verizon. “Investigating, collaborating and developing standards that all of us can pursue is just going to accelerate innovation in this space.”

On Monday, Verizon will demonstrate innovative car-sharing technology that runs as an application on any smartphone or tablet. It also will showcase technology being used in Oregon’s “pay-by the mile” road usage program, which charges motorists 1.5 cents per mile.

“Sometimes, it’s hard for the big behemoths to coalesce behind a common objective,” Jan said. “In Mcity, I’ve seen that change. That will not only spur innovation and put Michigan on the map...but ultimately become a road map for all the other states and cities to emulate.”


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