Skip to main content

World’s first highway test facility for autonomous vehicles opens in Michigan

Amid what has recently been a controversial time for the prospect of autonomous driving technology, the American Center for Mobility has opened its new highway testing division at its facility in Michigan.

The American Center for Mobility is a nonprofit test facility based in Michigan that focuses on the research, testing, and development of autonomous vehicle. With a mission to continue improving automotive safety, the consortium backed by the state of Michigan consists of the state’s Department of Transportation, the University of Michigan, various other state-sanctioned groups. It also has the support of major companies in various industries.

In April 2017, the center opened its proving grounds and headquarters at a 500-acre historic site in Ann Arbor following a total investment nearing $135 million. With its new highway division, automakers can now test autonomous vehicles in high-speed driving situations.

The testing center opens in the wake of recent fatalities related to self-driving vehicles. A few weeks ago, a motorist died following a collision while using Tesla’s “Autopilot” in a Model X in San Francisco, and a pedestrian was then killed by an Uber autonomous car in Tempe, Arizona.

John Maddox, the center’s CEO, stressed the importance of testing autonomous vehicles.

“What happened in Tempe is a clear indication the technology needs to continue being developed,” Maddox said to AutomotiveNews. “Having this facility and others like it is very, very critical” for autonomous vehicles to be successful.

The finished 2.5-mile highway loop is the first of its kind, and will allow automakers to test their self-driving vehicles at speeds of 65 mph and beyond. On-ramps and off-ramps are also integrated into the proving grounds, while a 700-foot curved tunnel was built to see how autonomous vehicles behave when they lose connection with a satellite.

The outdoor facility is subject to Michigan’s four seasons, allowing for testing in winter driving conditions, while simulating contraflows from construction work, and other road hazards like railroad tracks. The highway section also features 40-mph and 50-mph curves to test the behavior and handling characteristics of test vehicles at higher speeds.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The finished highway loops represents the completion of one of several phases to the facility’s full opening. By 2019, the center plans to have an urban section simulating residential streets, with road hazards such as pedestrians, bike lanes, and other obstacles like roundabouts and crosswalks.

Editors' Recommendations

Chris Chin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Since picking up his first MicroMachine, Chris Chin knew his passion for automobiles was embedded into his soul. Based in…
CES 2021 and cars: What we expect in autonomous cars, EVs, and more
Sony Vision-S Concept Car

The automotive world has been turned on its ear in recent years, as the greatest car shows of the world dimmed beside and ultimately vanished into the penumbra of CES. CES has truly taken over the world of transportation: The world’s greatest gadget show has become one of the world’s biggest car shows, where dozens of car builders and accessory makers come to show off their latest wares.

In years past at CES, we’ve driven self-driving cars and tractors, been wowed by futuristic autonomous busses, and seen some of the biggest tech companies dip a tentative toe into the automotive world – I’m looking at you, Sony. What should we expect from CES 2021? Here are a few educated guesses at what to watch out for.
Autonomous cars galore
In years past, we’ve tested autonomous car tech from any number of companies. Last year I cruised around Vegas in a custom Lincoln MKZ, powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon Ride, a handful of chips and a software stack that can fit into a box no bigger than your backpack and can tie together the cameras, communication systems, and navigation needed for autonomy. In 2018 we rode in an Aptiv-powered Lyft, which we found the best kind of boring.

Read more
Waymo’s autonomous cars steer clear of any potential election unrest
Waymo fake city test

Waymo has taken its autonomous cars off the streets of San Francisco and placed them in a secure location to ensure they don’t get caught up in any election-related unrest that may occur.

Transdev, Waymo’s fleet operations vendor, told The Verge that the company had decided to temporarily pause testing of its self-driving vehicles until Thursday.

Read more
Ford reveals the vehicle destined for its autonomous-car services
ford reveals the car destined for its autonomous services vehicle

A Fourth-Generation Self-Driving Test Vehicle from Ford and Argo AI | Innovation | Ford

Ford has unveiled its fourth-generation autonomous test vehicle as it moves toward the launch of commercial services using the technology.

Read more