Michigan is moving forward in its drive to play a leading role in the development of autonomous vehicle testing.
American Center for Mobility administrators and elected officials held a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., to start work on an $80 million national testing lab for autonomous vehicle technologies. It came two weeks after a $1.2 million purchase of 311 acres at the former General Motors plant and World War II bomber factory in Ypsilanti Township, located near Ann Arbor, Mich.
The mobility center’s administrators hope to open a 2.5-mile highway loop by December 2017 as part of the project’s first phase. Construction will begin in earnest in the spring, said John Maddox, the center’s CEO.
The highway track will be funded with $20 million in startup funding from the Michigan Strategic Fund, a division of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Another $60 million will need to be raised to carry out the testing lab’s objectives. That could be federal funds, but backers think that seeking private funding will be necessary.
“We are moving on the assumption that federal money is difficult to get,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.
Peters said that designation of a national testing lab likely would attract new private investment. That will include automotive companies with deep pockets, he said.
Maddox said he already is talking with companies about investment. The prospect of a public-private partnership related to mobility and autonomous vehicles is “resonating” throughout the industry, he said.
Michigan has become a hub in recent years for government agencies, automakers, and researchers to test out connected car and autonomous vehicle technologies. Last year, the University of Michigan opened up the 32-acre miniature city, called Mcity, in Ann Arbor. Its intersections, streetlights and construction zones to offer a real world environment for testing autonomous technology.
The Mcity course was designed and built by the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) with support from the Michigan Department of Transportation. Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota have made up a portion of MTC’s 15 major partners, along with insurance, communication and technology companies.
Several people involved with the American Center for Mobility project said Monday that the U.S. faces stiff industry competition from countries in Europe and Asia, which makes these projects more urgent.
American Center for Mobility’s efforts are gaining notoriety overseas, too. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder recently returned from his sixth trade visit to China, where he toured the country’s Shanghai Auto City production facility and a Chinese self-driving vehicle testing site. Snyder said the state’s delegation was often asked about Michigan’s mobility efforts.
The governor said he soon will sign new legislation that creates a regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles in Michigan. This new rule will include allowing autonomous vehicles on public roads for any reason, not only while they’re being tested, he said.