Researchers the University of Michigan just one-upped a recent virtual SimCity project for testing smart technologies of future cities. A tangible, 32-acre testing ground for driverless cars called MCity pits autonomous vehicles against every conceivable real-life obstacle, minus the caprice of human drivers.
The uninhabited town in the university’s North Campus Research Complex contains suburban and city roadways, building facades, sidewalks, bike lanes and streetlights. Recreating street conditions in a controlled environment means teaching robotic vehicles to interpret graffiti-defaced road signs, faded line markings, construction obstacles and other quotidian surprises which AI is still ill-equipped to handle.
By dint of moveable facades, researchers can create any condition—from blind corners to odd intersections—to develop more conscientious self-driving vehicles. Vehicles will navigate city terrain from dirt to paving brick and gravel roads, decode freeway signs, and make split-second braking and lane-change decisions in a High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane at peak hours.
“We believe that this transformation to connected and automated mobility will be a game changer for safety, for efficiency, for energy, and for accessibility,” said Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Mobility Transformation Center. “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.”
MCity is the first major project of a part governmental, academic, and commercial partnership called the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center. The initiative is backed by million-dollar investments from companies like Toyota, Nissan, Ford, GM, Honda, State Farm, Verizon, and Xerox, who will no doubt be affected should driverless cars go mainstream.
The testing center is is also tinkering with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) connectivity to investigate whether it aids individual vehicles in making better decisions. The university aims to eventually deploy 9,000 connected vehicles across the greater Ann Arbor area.