The University of Michigan opened Mcity, a brand new facility for testing autonomous vehicles. This 32-acre area stimulates suburban and urban driving conditions with sidewalks, intersections, a railway crossing, and a miniature highway. This controlled environment was designed to withstand repeated testing of connected technologies and various levels of automation, including fully autonomous vehicles.
While other test facilities exist around the world, Mcity is unique because it is open source. The university partnered with Michigan Department of Transportation, along with dozens of companies that invested a total of $10 million to fund the project. The list of investors represents the evolving auto industry, with tech companies now competing with traditional automakers for a piece of the road. Mcity’s biggest investors include the usual suspects—Ford, Toyota, General Motors—but also automotive electronics company Robert Bosch and tech firms Verizon Communications, Qualcomm, and Xerox. Auto insurers and traffic control groups also plan to use the facilities to explore the unique liabilities that driverless cars pose.
Construction on Mcity began last year and the facility officially opened on July 20. The “city” has several features to represent some of the challenges that autonomous vehicle technology will face in the real world. A stimulated tree cover, for example, will stimulate the reduction of signals that occurs when cars drive on streets with heavy overhead foliage. A metal bridge will allows researchers to test and mitigate the challenges that radar and image processing sensors face. Similarly, a tunnel and concrete barriers on the course demonstrate some real-world infrastructure that will block signals. Certain aspects of the city can be rearranged to meet different testing goals. Moveable building facades, for example, can be changed to test how different building materials will influence sensor performance. Since the test site is located in Michigan, researchers will be able to test autonomous vehicles in rain, snow, and a wide temperature range. Snow is an obvious physical hazard, but it will also be important to expose cars to inclement weather to test sensitive systems such as Lidar, which uses lasers to help steer vehicles.
We believe that this transformation to connected and automated mobility will be a game changer for safety, for efficiency, for energy, and for accessibility. Our cities will be much better to live in, our suburbs will be much better to live in. These technologies truly open the door to 21st century mobility.