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Autonomous Ann Arbor puts no one behind the wheel

Autonomous Ann Arbor
puts no one behind the wheel

by MIKE HRYMAK | Jul 20, 2015

This Thursday, BuiltWorlds will host Future Mobility, the first event in our new SmartWorlds Initiative. More than a dozen experts will explore a variety of compelling urban transportation issues. For more info and tickets, click here.

This Thursday, BuiltWorlds will host Future Mobility, the first event in our new SmartWorlds Initiative. More than a dozen experts will explore a variety of compelling urban transportation issues. For more info and tickets, click here.

A strange new city within Ann Arbor MI officially opened for business today. At first glance, its downtown is very familiar. Storefronts, sidewalks, and fire hydrants line the streets. Pedestrians stroll by, bicyclists pedal past, all seemingly enjoying the proximity of a modern metropolis. Railroad crossing bells clang, traffic lights change color, and vehicles start, stop, park and pull out. 

Upon closer inspection, though, something is amiss. The buildings are only facades. Some of the people supposedly enjoying their walk don't even move. And those that do are actually robots. But the weirdest part? The cars move without any drivers! No, robots haven't taken over Ann Arbor. This is 'Mcity', the University of Michigan's new 32-acre, driverless vehicle research facility, built for the public-private Mobility Transformation Center (MTC). Watch out for that robot Wolverine!

This "unique test facility for evaluating the capabilities of connected and automated vehicles and systems" is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and a consortium of nearly 50 commercial entities, led by such firms as Navistar, General Motors, Ford, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, State Farm, Qualcomm, Verizon, and Xerox.

At an initial cost of $10 million, the facility's mix of "human" and other traffic aims to replicate the unpredictability of a downtown environment in order to put autonomous vehicles to the test. One prominent Mcity resident is Sebastian, a robotic rover. He will put his animatronic life on the line every day, stepping out into intersections to test whether or not driverless vehicles will hit the breaks or swerve to avoid him, according to Bloomberg Business

This transformation to connected and automated mobility will be a game-changer for safety, for efficiency, and for energy.
— Dr. Peter Sweatman, Director, MTC

Part of the U-M's North Campus Research Complex, Mcity features a variety of road surfaces, a tunnel, a divided highway straightaway, ramps, fixed and variable street lighting, crosswalks, bike lanes, and fixed/movable buildings. 

“We believe that this transformation to connected and automated mobility will be a game-changer for safety, for efficiency and for energy," said Dr. Peter Sweatman, director of both MTC and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. "Our cities will be much better to live in. Our suburbs will be much better to live in. These technologies truly open the door for 21st-century mobility," he told U-M News today.

Where'd everybody go? Mcity's fake buildings and streets do project a certain post-apocalyptic panache . 

Where'd everybody go? Mcity's fake buildings and streets do project a certain post-apocalyptic panache . 

For an overview of Mcity, watch the video below. For much more on the project, click here.

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