To test self-driving tech, automakers built a fake city in Michigan

Mcity, a 32-acre town in Ann Arbor, Mich., has plenty of streets and storefronts – but no permanent residents. Mcity is a testing ground where automakers can refine software and hardware for self-driving cars to get them ready for public roadways.

Yuya Shino/Reuters
Mcity, a "test town" in Michigan, will allow Ford and other automakers to improve self-driving car technology. Here, a display in a prototype Toyota car shows the location of other vehicles during a test drive on the Metropolitan Expressway in Tokyo on October 8, 2015.

Mcity, a 32-acre town located in Ann Arbor, Mich., has storefronts, stoplights, and pedestrian crossings. Cars cruise up and down the streets – but the town has no permanent residents.

The metropolis is essentially a movie set, albeit a very expensive one, built at a cost of $10 million by automakers, the University of Michigan, and the state Department of Transportation to test self-driving cars. 

Think of it as a mid-way point between small closed courses and public roadways. At Mcity, automakers can refine cars’ sensors and software by seeing how they react to successions of hazards such as confusing signs, lane shifts, and sudden obstacles, all without putting lives at risk.

Mcity “allows us to be maximally evil to the technology we’re testing,” University of Michigan engineering professor Ryan Eustice told USA Today.

Ford announced on Friday that it will be the first automaker to test its self-driving cars at Mcity. The test facility was completed in July, but until now it’s been used only by students and companies that want to offer third-party technology for self-driving cars. Ford, which has been researching self-driving tech for more than 10 years, will run a fleet of self-driving Fusion sedans through Mcity’s streets regularly in order to improve the cars’ software and sensors so they’ll be more mature by the time they hit public roadways.

Over the next few months, Mcity will offer an additional challenge to self-driving cars: Michigan winters. Snow and fog can throw off a car’s radar, lasers, and cameras by removing depth perception. Automotive software needs to be able to handle these weather conditions, so self-driving cars don’t get confused every time a flurry comes down. In addition, a harsh winter might cause Mcity to develop potholes, snowbanks, and road debris – more obstacles a self-driving car would probably encounter in the real world.

Ford isn’t going to stop developing driver-assist technology, such as automatic parallel parking and blind-spot monitoring – but it wants to get to the point where it can produce fully autonomous cars. Tests at Mcity are designed to help Ford reach Level 4 on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s autonomy scale, which means that a car can handle all aspects of driving on its own, with human involvement purely optional. That’s the approach Google, which has been building self-driving cars since 2008, is taking as well. A Level 3 car, such as Tesla’s Model S equipped with AutoPilot software, can handle most driving decisions but will hand control back over to the human driver if it encounters conditions it doesn’t know how to deal with.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to To test self-driving tech, automakers built a fake city in Michigan
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Technology/2015/1113/To-test-self-driving-tech-automakers-built-a-fake-city-in-Michigan
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe