The global hustle and bustle by automakers, tech firms and ride hailing companies to develop a breakthrough autonomous car is well known.
Behind the scenes, however, another battle has emerged — the location of autonomous car testing facilities.
In the U.S., the fiercest competition is between California and Michigan, each wanting not just the money for the development, but for the prestige that comes with being number one.
At the moment, it appears that Michigan has a slight lead.
State officials announced that a 335-acre chunk of the former Willow Run WWII B-24 bomber plant in Ypsilanti Township will be transformed into a test facility for cars and trucks that drive on their own and talk to each other.
Plans for the $80 million project expect construction to get underway in early 2017 with the test center fully operational in early 2018.
According to the Detroit News, the site will include a downtown area with building facades, a highway-speed loop with merging, lane-changing and cloverleafs, a rural area with unmarked gravel roads, a residential/suburban area and a simulated strip-mall parking lot.
Postwar, General Motors used the site for vehicle assembly and transmission production and some of that infrastructure will be utilized.
The American Center for Mobility (ACM), operator of the test facility, sees the Willow Run site as a compliment to the nearby Mcity, an 18-acre autonomous-vehicle test center featuring simulated urban and suburban roads and infrastructure at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
ACM’s CEO John Maddox says Mcity will continue to focus on research and early-stage development and low-speed testing while ACM will be able to handle higher-speed testing, advanced product development and a higher number of users.
Adding to the state’s resume is Kettering University this fall is opening a 20-acre research area with a test track and research lab at the former Chevy in the Hole plant site in Flint.
It will be available to automakers and suppliers to test connected and autonomous car technology.
California’s test facilities can match Michigan’s except for one thing, cold-weather testing.
And while most major auto manufacturers have offices in Silicon Valley, much of the development and engineering for autonomous vehicles is done in the Detroit area, a plus for being number one.