ANN ARBOR, Michigan — A new cityscape is being built at the University of Michigan to test connected and automated vehicles, as well as other emerging transportation technologies.
Called M City, the 32-acre facility will be located on the university's North Campus and will include a network of roads with intersections, roundabouts, traffic signs and signals, and sidewalks. Simulated buildings, parked cars, pedestrians and other obstacles will challenge the capabilities of various automated vehicle systems.
Roadway construction was completed in December, and the facility is expected to be operational in spring 2015, with a formal opening planned for July.
"Connected and automated vehicle technology will usher in a revolution in the mobility of people and goods comparable to that sparked by the introduction of the automobile a century ago," said Peter Sweatman, director of the university's Mobility Transformation Center, in a statement. "M City will allow us to rigorously test new approaches in a safe, controlled and realistic environment before we implement them on actual streets."
The Mobility Transformation Center, which is behind the project, is a partnership with industry and government intended to help develop a commercially viable system of connected and automated transportation. A key goal of the initiative is to implement such a system on the streets of southeastern Michigan by 2021.
The MTC is also planning to deploy more than 20,000 cars, trucks and buses on southeastern Michigan roads to serve as test beds for evaluating consumer behavior and exploring market opportunities.
As previously reported by Edmunds, in December 2013 Michigan became the fourth U.S. state to approve the testing of autonomous vehicles on its roadways. The others are California, Florida and Nevada.
On Monday, at the 94th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C., U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx proposed a 30-year plan to revitalize the country's transportation system. Although the forthcoming report will deal with transportation as a whole — including infrastructure, public transportation, funding and legislation — Foxx referenced vehicle connectivity and autonomy as important parts of the nation's future mobility.
The government's views on self-driving cars began coalescing in May 2013 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its policy on automated vehicle development. In addition to defining terms, outlining plans for research and making recommendations to states regarding the safe testing and licensing of autonomous vehicles, the policy stressed the "enormous safety potential of these new technologies."
According to NHTSA, 93 percent of vehicle crashes are caused by human error. And the hope among government officials, automakers and researchers, such as those at the University of Michigan's Mobility Transformation Center, is that autonomous vehicles can help reduce that number.
Edmunds says: With testing on public roads still restricted in many states, facilities like M City will play a key role in the development of autonomous vehicles.