As autonomous vehicles begin appearing on more and more American roadways, it’s becoming more and more important to test these vehicles before they are let loose in the wilds of the American highway system. It’s a jungle out there. In order to test these vehicles, manufacturers and researchers are constructing their own jungles (concrete jungles) to simulate the real-world driving conditions autonomous cars will face. The latest American testing site for autonomous or self-driving vehicles opened this week in Ypsilanti, Michigan and already has a waiting list featuring some of the biggest automakers on the planet including Ford, Hyundai, Toyota, Visteon, and AT&T, curiously.
The center is called the American Center for Mobility (ACM) and is built at the former site of Willow Run, a massive World War II-era bombing factory built by Ford. Today, the site features a curved tunnel, a 2.5-mile-long loop of highway, two full-size overpasses, and a variety of intersections, roundabouts, and other common road features self-driving cars are likely to encounter. The Michigan location means there are four distinct seasons for automakers to test their cars in, each with their own unique weather environments.
In a press release, President and CEO of ACM John Maddox says he believes the site can become one of the world’s most in-demand facilities for testing connected and automated vehicles , or CAV:
We are excited to be open for testing and to have our Founders already leveraging the assets of this facility. We have been moving rapidly, and along with good input from our Founders, a great deal of work has gone into developing this site. Opening our doors is just the beginning as we continue to develop the American Center for Mobility into a global hub for CAV and future mobility technologies to put self-driving cars on America’s roads safely.
The first client to take the site for a spin was American automotive electronics supplier Visteon, who took one of their autonomous vehicles for a highway drive in Michigan winter snow. The site will also be used to develop connected roadway infrastructure that can communicate directly with self-driving vehicles. The site will continue to open new features through December 2019 as they are finalized. Let’s hope they’re building a simulated Atlanta traffic jam. Those autonomous vehicles need a sobering taste of that soul-crushing boredom before it becomes their daily existence.