Self-driving Cars Get Test City


The University of Michigan is building a 32-acre model city for testing self-driving cars.

The Mobile Transformation Facility will include both a city centre with the traditional grid model and a four-lane highway. Realistic features will include “merge lanes, stoplights, intersections, roundabouts, road signs, a railroad crossing, building facades, construction barrels and eventually a mechanical pedestrian.”

The facility will be run by the Mobility Transformation Center, a public-private partnership. It’s made up of university departments and representatives from local, state and federal government. It’s also agreed partnerships with auto firms Ford, General Motors and Toyota. The ultimate goal is to have driverless cars on the real streets of Ann Arbor by 2021.

The model city, which should be constructed by this fall, will initially be used to test an automated Ford Fusion car. The idea is to make the test environment as realistic as possible, but to be able to intentionally test how vehicles perform in potentially dangerous circumstances that it wouldn’t be safe to deliberately stage on real streets.

Engineering and computing staff at the university will write code to trigger events such as a pedestrian stepping into the road at an intersection with no notice. There’ll also be mechanized bicycles to contend with.

Many features in the model city, including even the buildings (which will merely be a facade) will be easy to reposition, meaning the layout won’t have to stay the same. That will test the limits of automated vehicle systems that rely on having stored data about street layouts and factors such as local traffic speed limits.