University of Michigan creates mini city to test self-driving cars

Mcity is the world's first controlled environment to test self-driving cars -image courtesy of the University of Michigan.

The University of Michigan has shown a glimpse into the future of driving by opening the world’s first controlled environment to test how self-driving cars would operate on the roads of the future.

The university’s Mcity is a 32 acre outdoor lab designed for testing the performance and safety of connected, automated and autonomous vehicles under controlled and realistic road conditions.

Mcity is a full-scale replica of an urban environment, with many of its features including urban and suburban streets, lane configurations, sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, bike lanes, ADA ramps, street lights, a traffic circle , parallel and diagonal parking and a bus turnoff/stop.

Mcity also features infrastructure found in real cities, including a roundabout, an underpass, a four-way intersection, a tunnel, a bridge and a freeway.

The new facility allows researchers to simulate the environments where automated vehicles will be most challenged once fully deployed on the roads of the future.

The $6.5m facility was designed and developed by the University of Michigan’s interdisciplinary MTC, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The university has also partnered with 15 other companies who will each invest $1m over a period of 3 years.

Mcity will allow automakers to test autonomous cars in a controlled environment for the first time, having previously only being able to be conducted on public roads or private proving grounds.

Ford is one of the 15 companies to have invested in the facility, and has already tested its driverless Fusion hybrid sedan in Mcity and mapped all its streets and structures.

Director of the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Centre, Peter Sweatman, said Mcity would help to transform 21st century driving.

“We believe that this transformation to connected and automated mobility will be a game changer for safety, for efficiency for energy, and for accessibility,” he said.

“Our cities will be much better to live in, our suburbs will be much better to live in, these technologies truly open the door to 21st century mobility.”

Mr Sweatman also said the Mcity was created to help speed up the process of meeting future consumer demand for self-driving technology.

“We believe that autonomous technology is going to be extremely attractive to consumers,” he said.

“So it’s going to have to be deployed as quickly as we reasonably and responsibly can,

“We designed Mcity to hyper-accelerate the process.”

According to Boston Consulting Group, the market for autonomous cars is set to grow to $42bn by 2025, with self-driving cars potentially accounting for a quarter of global car sales by 2035.