YPSILANTI TWP. – At what is now the Willow Run Airport Ford Motor Company built some 8,000 plus B-24 bombers during World War II, helping Detroit earn the nickname The Arsenal of Democracy. Now some 75 years later, the site is home to a state-of-the art proving grounds for testing autonomous vehicle technology – perhaps helping metro Detroit earn a new nickname – the Driverless Car Capitol of the World.
On December 11, the American Center for Mobility opened for business to a select group of corporations that have invested tens of millions of dollars into what will be a $110 million, 500-acre testing center that CEO John Maddox says is not like any other proving grounds in the world. The state invested $65 million, and the corporate “founders” another $45 million.
One of those founders, Visteon, began testing the implementation of autonomous highway functionality for its DriveCore™ autonomous driving platform in challenging conditions – one of Southeast Michigan’s first snowfalls. Focus areas for Visteon’s testing and validation at ACM include autonomous driving algorithms; vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology and functionality, integrated with autonomous driving; sensor technology; and, security protocols.
Then on Dec. 13, another founder, Toyota, began orientation and driver’s training. Testing will occur during all four seasons, day and night, in sun, rain, ice and snow. These elements help to create the perfect environment for testing and developing voluntary national standards for mobility technologies before vehicles and other products are deployed onto public roads.
“We are excited to be open for testing and to have our Founders already leveraging the assets of this facility,” said Maddox. “We have been moving rapidly, and along with good input from our Founders, a great deal of work has gone into developing this site. Opening our doors is just the beginning as we continue to develop the American Center for Mobility into a global hub for CAV and future mobility technologies to put self-driving cars on America’s roads safely.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation designated proving grounds provides a myriad of real-world environments with the ability to test under varied, yet controlled conditions. Its unmatched range of driving environments and infrastructure includes a 2.5-mile highway loop, a 700-foot curved tunnel, two double overpasses, intersections and roundabouts. The highway loop is what used to be the west-bound lanes of the old Michigan Avenue.
The opening of ACM comes just over a year after the groundbreaking on this historic site, where B-24 bombers were made during World War II and which will also be home to the National Museum of Aviation and Technology at historic Willow Run. Construction on the first phase of the project began in May 2017 by Michigan-based Angelo Iafrate Construction Company.
The next phase of construction will begin in the spring of 2018 and will feature an urban driving environment, followed by ACM headquarters and a tech park. The American Center for Mobility is designed to enable technology and to accelerate the development of voluntary standards to improve transportation systems and ensure U.S. competitiveness worldwide. The Center is available for use by private industry, government, standards bodies and academia and serves as a technology hub, allowing companies to lease office space, garages, and other amenities. There is also the opportunity for additional economic investment by companies looking to expand existing or build new facilities close to the testing ground. Maddox said those announcements will be forthcoming soon.
The Center is a joint initiative with the State of Michigan founded in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the University of Michigan, Business Leaders for Michigan and Ann Arbor SPARK. ACM is part of PlanetM, a collaborative that represents Michigan’s unique and vast ecosystem, connecting resources and opportunities for its consortium of members. Made up of private industry, government and institutions of higher learning, partners in PlanetM share the common goal of leading the development of smart solutions that will change the way people and goods are transported across all modes of transportation.
“Just as Michigan put the world on wheels, today we are leading the way in the mobility revolution,” said Governor Rick Snyder. “The American Center for Mobility will be the place where innovations go from the drawing board to the open road. With ACM open for testing we are taking one giant step in the right direction to affirm Michigan’s place as the undisputed leader in mobility.”
While founders AT&T, Visteon, Toyota, Ford and Hyundai America Technical Center Inc., have initial priority for testing at the proving grounds, ACM is also available to other companies looking to take advantage of access to automated vehicle proving grounds.
What return on investment do these companies seek? Getting in on the ground floor of what not only the state of Michigan hopes will cement Michigan’s place as the brains of the world’s auto industry, but also also the epicenter of autonomous vehicle development.
ACM is the second autonomous vehicle technology development center in the state. The first was the University of Michigan’s MCity, a 32-acre site on U-M’s North Campus, with about 16 acres of roads and traffic infrastructure.
“We’re a separate organization,” Maddox said. “But MCity will be a great collaborative partner. MCity focuses on pre-competitive research. We’re focused on later stage technology. We can exist side-by-side for autonomous vehicle technology development.”
So when will the phase 5 autonomous vehicle actually hit the roads? That would be a fully autonomous vehicle that can still be managed by a human driver, but could take you home like a taxi. Maddox declined to speculate.
But he did predict Level 2 and 3 driverless cars in urban centers by 2020. Phase 2 is partial automation, such as driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment. Level 3 is conditional automation. Driving mode-specific performance by an Automated Driving System where the human driver only has to occasionally intervene.
“We’ll see high automation in geofenced urban areas by the 2020 timeframe,” he predicted.
For more information on testing at ACM, please email ralph.buc[email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>
To learn more about how Michigan is leading the transportation revolution or to become a member, visit PlanetM. To learn more about ACM, visit www.acmwillowrun.org<http://www.acmwillowrun.org>.
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