‘Test city’ for robot cars opens

July 21, 2015 1:45 am

 

A pedestrian crosses in front of a vehicle as part of a demonstration at Mcity on its opening day. Photo / AP

Automakers and researchers say a new simulated city at the University
of Michigan could help speed the development of driverless and
connected cars.
The 32-acre site on the university’s campus
officially opened Monday. The $10 million testing ground will be run by
the Mobility Transformation Center, a partnership between the
university, state and federal governments and auto and
companies.
The site has many familiar features of urban driving,
including intersections, a railroad crossing, two roundabouts, brick and
gravel roads and parking spaces. Moveable building facades and fake
pedestrians can be altered for different kinds of tests. There’s a
simulated highway entrance ramp. Two features ” a metal bridge and a
tunnel ” will be a special challenge for wireless signals and radar
sensors.

Peter Sweatman, the director of the Mobility Transformation
Center, says other test sites in Sweden and Japan have some of the same
features, but the Michigan site is one of the most advanced autonomous
vehicle testing grounds in the world.
Automakers, high-tech
companies and university researchers will test car-to-car communication
systems, which could one day predict accidents and stop cars before a
mishap. They’ll also be testing semi-autonomous and driverless vehicles
at the site.
Ryan Eustice, an associate professor of engineering
at the University of Michigan, has been testing driverless cars at the
site with Ford Motor Co. since November, when the roads were paved but
other features weren’t yet installed.

A University of Michigan logo decorates a roundabout at Mcity on its opening day. Photo / AP
A University of Michigan logo decorates a roundabout at Mcity on its opening day. Photo / AP
Eustice says the site allows researchers to be “maximally
evil” toward the car, putting it into all sorts of situations that can
be quickly and easily repeated, like a model of a pedestrian obscured by
a bus that walks out into traffic. Every kilometer of testing at the
site is worth hundreds of kilometers of real-world driving, he said,
since it can take hours of real driving to come upon a scenario that’s
difficult for the car to handle.
“In terms of the weird stuff, we can pack it all in in a very dense way,” he said.
Hideki
Hada, the general manager of integrated systems at Toyota’s engineering
campus in Ann Arbor, says Toyota also has a test city in Japan, but
this is a neutral site that will allow it to make sure its cars can
communicate with cars from other automakers.
He said Toyota and
other companies had input into what would be included at the site. One
of his requests: Dirty, mud-splashed road signs, so that automakers can
make sure their cameras can still read them.

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