Willow Run self-drive facility picked as U.S. test site

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A center for developing and testing self-driving cars that’s under development in Ypsilanti Township has been selected by the federal government as one of 10 designated “proving grounds” for autonomous vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday that the American Center for Mobility that is being built on the 355-acre Willow Run site will be one of 10 facilities that are being designated as a means of fostering innovations.

No federal money is attached to the designation, but U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the proving grounds will collectively form a “community of practice” around safe testing and deployment.

“This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing and operations as they are developed, enabling the participants and the general public to learn at a faster rate and accelerating the pace of safe deployment,” Foxx said in a statement.

To qualify for the designation, facilities have to open for testing by the start of 2018. Officials broke ground on the American Center for Mobility in November.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, who pushed for the center to receive the federal designation, said Thursday he is glad the Obama administration finished identifying the autonomous proving grounds before the outgoing president leaves office.

“I’ve been pushing the administration to have the competition and to get this done before the change that’s going to happen,” Peters said in an interview with The Detroit News. “It was important to get this done, no matter who was going to end up being the new president.”

Peters said the designation would pay dividends for the Willow Run site, despite the fact that there is no money attached to it. He cited its proximity to Detroit automakers.

“The designations means at these facilities, NHTSA will be working to validate and conduct testing of self-driving cars,” he said. “This is going to be the place that companies are going to want to come to.”

Peters added: “The fact that it has been designated will be a catalyst to attract private investment. It’s similar to what happened with MCity.” MCity is an autonomous testing facility at the University of Michigan.

John Maddox, president and CEO of the American Center for Mobility, said “we couldn’t be more proud and excited, and are ready to lead the safe deployment of automated technologies and vehicles onto our roads.”

“Our state-of-the-art global center for testing, education and product development for connected and automated vehicles and future mobility fits seamlessly with the USDOT’s vision and we are honored to have been selected,” Maddox said in a statement, noting that Ypsilanti mobility center was one of 60 facilities that applied for the self-driving proving ground designation.

The search for proving grounds for self-driving cars comes as federal regulators move to implement new guidelines for autonomous cars.

The transportation department said Thursday the designations of self-driving proven grounds “are a logical next step in the department’s effort to advance the safe deployment of automated technology.”

The American Center for Mobility is joined by the following facilities in receiving the Automated Vehicle Proving Ground designation on Thursday:

■City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute

■Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership

■U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center

■Contra Costa Transportation Authority and GoMentum Station

■San Diego Association of Governments

■Iowa City Area Development Group

■University of Wisconsin-Madison

■Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners

■North Carolina Turnpike Authority


(202) 662-8735