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Driverless Car Testing to Take Place in Michigan Robot City

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driverless car testing

Google’s oddly cute driverless car

What seemed like a far-off dream just a few years ago is quickly becoming reality. Driverless cars are being tested in various places across the globe, from California to the United Kingdom. But while these cars are tested with human co-pilots who can step in if needed, truly autonomous cars aren’t as easy to test in real-life driving conditions. Until now, that is.

The University of Michigan will soon open a 23-acre mini “city,” appropriately named M City, to allow automakers to truly test out the capabilities of their driverless cars. M City is set to open for business mid-July, and will provide automakers with real-life driving situations in which to test their autonomous vehicles, from traffic jams to potential hazards like cyclists and pedestrians.

M City is the result of a collaboration between the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, the Michigan Department of Transportation, GM, Ford, and Toyota. The city will feature 40 building facades, a bridge, a traffic circle, gravel roads, a tunnel, angled intersections, and obstructed views. It’ll also be home to numerous “pedestrians”–robots who, like regular people, might walk out into the road in front of a car without properly checking first, or might otherwise create a hazard that could lead to an accident. This will allow driverless car manufacturers to truly test their vehicles’ reactions when faced with potential collisions.

driverless car testing

The Audi A7 Traffic Jam Pilot

“We would never do any dangerous or risky tests on the open road, so this will be a good place to test some of the next technology,” explained Hideki Hada, general manager for electronic systems at Toyota’s Technical Center in Ann Arbor. “A big challenge is intersections in the city, because there are vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles together with complex backgrounds with buildings and connections to infrastructure. That’s why this is really important.”

Another important part of M City is its location above the snow belt. Michigan sees plenty of snow each winter, and the city’s managers plan on using the snow to mimic wintery conditions in large US cities (patchy removal, large snow piles, and so on). This is a huge step in the testing of autonomous vehicles, because as of yet manufacturers don’t know how much rain and snow will affect their vehicles’ sensors, which means they may not be safe for winter driving. Having the city located in Michigan will give developers a chance to test their technology in inclement weather, and make changes accordingly to ensure that driverless cars will be able to handle the harsh winter conditions seen in many northern states.

driverless cars in the UK

Driverless car testing in the United Kingdom
Photo: UK Department for Transportation

Boston Consulting Group estimates that self-driving cars could account for as much as a quarter of worldwide automotive sales by the year 2035, which means automakers are scrambling to perfect their technology in order to stay ahead of the game. And while some (like Toyota) are keeping plans firmly under wraps, others (like Tesla) are already planning on offering self-steering cars for sale as early as this summer. And sure, a self-steering car isn’t fully autonomous, but it’s a huge step from where we were just a few years ago.

News Source: Bloomberg Business

Catherine Hiles is a native Brit currently based in Dayton, Ohio. Don’t ask how that happened. Cat has written about a variety of subjects, from dog training to fashion, and counts running and cooking among her hobbies.

Cat lives with her husband, Ben; their daughter, Rose; and their collection of animals, including an energetic mutt, an elderly basset hound, and a jerk cat. See more articles by Cat.