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Autonomous vehicles set to get their own special roads in Michigan

The state of Michigan has unveiled an ambitious plan to build roadways solely for autonomous vehicles. In what would be a first for the U.S., the initial route would cover a distance of about 40 miles and run between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Part of Michigan’s ongoing efforts to establish itself as the hub of autonomous-vehicle technology research and development, the special road could be built alongside Michigan Avenue and I-94 and used initially for testing and also public transportation using autonomous shuttles.

State governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the project, as well as details of the public-private partnership behind it, at a special event in the Motor City on Thursday, August 13, describing it as “the world’s most sophisticated roadway.”

Vehicles given clearance to use the road will be connected to a remote computer system that would process data from sensors along the route. This would allow the system to control the speed of the vehicles to maximize the efficiency of traffic movement. In other words, folks manually driving their own cars on the regular road next to the new route can expect to see the autonomous vehicles outpacing their own.

The project is being led by Cavnue, a company owned by Alphabet-funded Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, itself a spin-off of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs that’s geared toward building cities of the future. Keen to involve important players in the world of autonomous vehicles, the project organizers have created an advisory board whose members include the likes of Ford, General Motors, Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Honda, Toyota, TuSimple, and Waymo.

Cavnue is also future-proofing the roadway so that as autonomous technology becomes more advanced, the road will begin to accept not just test vehicles but also passenger-carrying buses and shared mobility vehicles such as vans and shuttles, as well as personal vehicles and freight-carrying trucks.

First, though, a two-year study will need to be carried out to discover if existing lanes can be used, or whether new ones are required. There’s no word yet on the cost of the project. Private money is expected to finance the study phase of the project, with decisions yet to be taken on the later stages, should construction go ahead.

Commenting on the plan, Governor Whitmer said: ‘Here in Michigan, the state that put the world on wheels, we are taking the initial steps to build the infrastructure to help us test and deploy the cars of the future,” adding, “As we rebuild our roads to ensure every Michigander can drive to work and drop their kids at school safely, we will also continue working to build smart infrastructure to help prepare us for the roads of tomorrow.”

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Trevor Mogg
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