Opened on Monday, the University of Michigan's Mcity is the world's first controlled environment to test driverless cars, designed and developed by the university's "Mobility Transformation Center" (MTC) along with the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The driverless utopia is a 32-acre simulated urban/suburban environment, composed of a network of roads with junctions, traffic signs and signals, streetlights, building facades, pavements and construction obstacles.
The city aims to provide a platform for the scientific ("rigorous, repeatable") testing of robot chauffeurs before they flood public roads so that they can be rolled out to the mass market with minimal fuss.
"We believe that this transformation to connected and automated mobility will be a game changer for safety, for efficiency, for energy, and for accessibility," said Peter Sweatman, director of the MTC. "Our cities will be much better to live in, our suburbs will be much better to live in."
Researchers will attempt to simulate the environments in which cars with varying degrees of autonomy may face difficulties, from graffiti-covered road signs through to faded lane markings, though setting them up against Google's bête noire – human drivers – does not seem to be on the books, yet.
Focusing on "the potential of connected and automated vehicle technologies", the facility will provide room for researchers to investigate how, from connected vehicles ("vehicles talking to other vehicles or to the infrastructure, commonly known as V2V or V2I") through to fully autonomous cars, our robot taxi overlords manage to function in specific, controllable environments.
The MTC aims to explore the web of engineering, business, law, urban planning, policy, and social challenges that driverless cars require society to address. ®