Driverless Cars on the Road in Fake City

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July 20, 2015

When is a town not a town? When no one is driving the cars.

That’s the case in Mcity, a 32-acre controlled test environment at the University of Michigan that features roads, streetlights, stop signs, traffic signals, traffic circles, a bridge, bicycle lanes, and even hydrants and sidewalks designed to simulate a real living/working space in which researchers can test driverless cars. Also in the grid are a four-lane highway, complete with entrance and exit ramps. For the more adventuresome “drivers,” the researchers have provided a variety of road coverings, including asphalt, brick, dirt, and concrete.

Mcity doesn’t have homes or office buildings but does contain facades that suggest such things. Among the obstacles that the driverless cars are likely to experience is Sebastian, a sort of robot that will step out into traffic in order to test the cars’ reaction time. The most serious tests will come when the cars have to make their way by incorporating data from street signs and yellow road lines that have been deliberately faded.

Mcity researchers also plan to conduct tests on cars that are connected to other cars or to equipment, like stop lights. The ultimate goal, the researchers say, is for connected cars in the tens of thousands to dot Michigan’s roadways.

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David White