For decades, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has been one of the top training grounds for the engineers that power the American automotive industry. However, with the focus on Google and its self-driving driving cars in recent years, the center of gravity seems to have shifted westward to Palo Alto, California, and Stanford University. With the grand opening of the Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) in Ann Arbor, however, Michigan hopes to regain its place in the pecking order while driving automated and connected vehicle technology forward.
Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report projects that nearly 50 million vehicles with some form of autonomous capability will be sold globally by 2030. Those vehicles will need to function reliably in a broad range of environments and coexist with the existing human-driven fleet as well as technologies from many different companies.
The MTC, also known as Mcity, is a 32-acre dedicated proving ground built on the university’s North Campus, which was formerly the site of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s Ann Arbor R&D center. Mcity will be operated by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) in partnership with more than a dozen automakers, suppliers, insurers, and the U.S. and Michigan departments of transportation. The facility includes road surfaces paved with a variety of materials along with unpaved roads and features such as signs, fire hydrants, crosswalks, roundabouts, overpasses, and tunnels. Movable building facades will enable the testing of a variety of real-world scenarios.
Partner companies and students of the university will all have access to the facilities to develop and validate new transportation technologies. Among the participating companies are Toyota, Honda, General Motors, Ford, Robert Bosch LLC, Delphi, Qualcomm, and State Farm Insurance. Each of the manufacturers have R&D centers and test facilities of their own in or near southeast Michigan, but those facilities are closed to outsiders. At Mcity, the companies will have a common ground where they can test individually and collaboratively to ensure that their respective systems can coexist.
And, unlike in California, where weather is rarely an issue that test drivers have to contend with, Mcity will also provide a platform for testing under all of the environmental conditions faced by drivers, including winter snowfall and road salt. Most current automated driving systems do not function as well or, in many cases, at all if the weather is less than ideal. This is a problem that will need to be addressed before systems are deployed to customers.
Preparing for V2X
Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report estimates that more than 80% of new vehicles sold in North America and Europe will be equipped with vehicle-to-external (V2X) communications capability by 2025. While initial deployments are expected to focus mainly on vehicle-to-vehicle transmission of basic safety messages, the potential to expand the data transfer to pedestrians, cyclists, and infrastructure could have a significant impact on reducing congestion and accidents. Among the features of Mcity are stationary and motorized pedestrians and cyclists that can be equipped with V2X transponders and that can also be used for testing the sensing capabilities of automated vehicles.
The collaborative efforts at Mcity will also include the development of performance and reliability standards for communications and automation systems. While much of this work will likely become the basis of new SAE industry standards, it could also feed into future federal motor vehicle safety standards, which do not currently address autonomous driving. Work at this new collaborative testing facility is scheduled to begin this summer.
Tags: Autonomous Vehicles, Connected Vehicles, Fuel Efficiency and Emerging Technologies, Transportation Efficiencies
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